At tonight’s GSB meeting (7pm in the MU Campanile Room), senators will consider a bill about the MU Chapel. I am concerned that they have not given enough consideration to all of the issues nor have they collected enough feedback from students (particularly students that are other than Christian or atheist) in order to make a sound decision on this issue. Therefore, I have requested that they postpone the vote until more information can be gathered. Some of these issues were brought up the Politics Hour show on KURE, which I was a part of (audio can be found at the host’s website). I hope you will attend the meeting and share your thoughts on these issues.
I am writing to you to request a postponement of at three weeks for the vote for 2009-2-044 SR, which is scheduled for this Wednesday. There are a variety of issues that come up in discussions about the MU Chapel, many of which have not been adequately explored.
First, the maintenance of any chapel on state-owned property is not permitted by both federal and states constitutions, and there is no precedent to my knowledge of exemptions for universities. The necessity of a meditation and reflection space for the well-being of students that may not have their spiritual needs met off campus may be an adequate reason to maintain the space, but this discussion has not to my knowledge been conducted.
Second, if it is found that a meditation and reflection space is a benefit to campus and is a viable exception to Iowa’s constitution, there remains the more specific issue of endorsement of one religion over others or over lack of religion. This endorsement is not only problematic legally, but is also indicative of Christian privilege and related discrimination against non-Christians.
Any meditation and reflection space must at least have the ability to benefit as many students as possible. In its current configuration, it only benefits students who worship in the Christian style, sitting in pews. The space is currently not usable to students of faiths that worship in other ways (specifically, Muslims and Buddhists, and potentially others) because the pews take up so much floor space. Also, as the large cross in the current configuration of the chapel resides on the eastern wall, non-Christian students of faiths that face east in prayer may find that the temporary solution of the curtain is not adequate to allow them to pray in the way they prefer.
To further explore the issue of inclusivity as it relates to the chapel, I have contacted the leaders of a variety of student organizations to gauge their interest in an interfaith and intercultural discussion of how the chapel could be changed or not changed to better serve non-Christian students. Every student leader that I have contacted has expressed great interest in participating in this dialogue. So far, I have reached leaders from: Muslim Student Association, Society for Peace and Dialogue, Karma Kagyu Study Group, Student Chapter of the Art of Living Foundation, Egyptian Students Association, Indian Students Association, and the Atheist and Agnostic Society. Christian student groups that have expressed interest in participating in the dialog include the Catholic Student Community and the Wesley Foundation. ACLU at ISU is interested in providing advice during these proceedings.
Two discussion time/dates will be set within the next two weeks to allow for as many representatives from diverse student groups as possible to attend. A summary of the discussion as well as recommendations presented by the student groups will be provided to GSB.
I hope that the promise of this additional information and involvement from a diverse group of students will cause you to recognize the need to postpone the vote on 2009-2-044 SR. If we take care on this issue, we could potentially set an example for schools around the country.
Please pass this request along to any additional senators that might be involved in discussion of 2009-2-044 SR. Please let me know when and where any additional GSB-related discussions of the chapel will be held, including discussion of whether to postpone this vote. And finally, please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have on this or any other issue.
President, ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society
GPSS Senator, Interdepartmental Genetics