Church, state and plumbing

Public schools should not use public money to accommodate religion.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College found itself in the midst of a heated controversy last week as it proposed to build structures to better accommodate the school’s large Muslim population. The issue surrounds the installation of near-the-ground faucets to allow students to easily wash their feet, a tradition that is observed by Muslims before participating in daily prayers.

Safety has been a concern for the MCTC community. The current practice – whereby students balance as they wash one foot at a time – has resulted in pools of water in restrooms, and last year, a student hit her head during the foot washing ritual.

The president of MCTC, Phillip Davis, has tried his best to define the issue as one of public safety and not of religious favoritism, but he seems to be losing the effort. Conservative columnists, lawmakers and bloggers have been outraged by the proposed use of taxpayer dollars at a public school.

This type of alteration to restrooms has been done in other schools around the country, but this type of proposal should be considered with the utmost trepidation. The separation of religion and government is not something to cast aside quickly, and accommodating a religious population will only rile up other groups. While the faucets do seem to address a legitimate safely concern, taxpayer dollars should not be used. The college would be better served by soliciting donations for the project.

We recognize the school’s large Muslim population and appreciate the concerns surrounding washing facilities, but we firmly feel that tax money should not fund the new faucets because of precedent; we don’t want religious accommodation to become commonplace in our public buildings and schools.

There are always attempts to erode the separation of church and state, but we feel every effort should be made to keep these entities from mingling.