IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Board of Regents is examining the University of Iowa’s decision to have designated prayer and meditation spaces on campus.
The university created the spaces in the Iowa Memorial Union earlier this year after Muslim students, faculty and staff said they have trouble finding a place to fulfill their prayer obligations, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. School officials have said the spaces are available to people of all faiths.
“It’s the right thing to do,” President Bruce Harreld said during a board meeting in Council Bluffs Thursday. “We don’t want to be a community of exclusion. We want to be a community of inclusion.”
Regent Subhash Sahai asked Harreld how many non-Muslims have been using the rooms, but he didn’t have any statistics available.
“But I can assure you that at least one Christian has prayed there: me,” Harreld said.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation asked the university last month to close the rooms because of concerns over separation of church and state issues.
The foundation’s letter specifically raised questions about temporary signs the Muslim Student Association places in the rooms to separate spaces for different genders and to ask people to remove their shoes.
Aimee Claeys, associate counsel for the regents, said the rooms are bare and are not segregated by gender.
“Providing these spaces that may be used for religious purposes is not in itself a violation of the constitution,” she said.
Members of an organization for agnostic and atheist students, Secular Students at Iowa, have been supportive of the decision to open the space.
President of the board, Regent Bruce Rastetter, said the regents will review the use of such spaces as part of the board’s overall policy. Discussion about the issue will continue in its June meeting.