School can’t escape heat for dumping teacher over Muhammad art

By Bob Unruh

(Image by svklimkin from Pixabay)
(Image by svklimkin from Pixabay)

A decision by a Minnesota college to dump an art teacher because she included for her class lessons art that depicted Muhammad could be “religious discrimination,” a court has ruled.

A report at Just the News documented that a federal judge has refused to dismiss claims of religious discrimination against Hamline University, a private school that imposed on a non-Muslim professor the demands of Muslim students.

At issue is the artistic rendering used by art teacher Erika Lopez Parter during a class on campus. Some included representations of Muhammad, and Muslim students were enraged. The school dumped the teacher, before abruptly making a 180 turn.

An order from Judge Katherine Menendez means the case involving Hamline will continue.

Its president, Fayneese Miller, announced her retirement following a vote of no-confidence from faculty after Prater’s contract was not renewed.

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The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression had filed a complaint over the issue but the state’s Higher Learning Commission stepped to the side, charging that it doesn’t typically investigate third-party concerns.

But a review by the American Association of University Professors confirmed Hamline had denied Prater “a legitimate academic rationale” for withholding “any further teaching assignments.”

In fact, that organization called the school’s actions a “de facto campaign of vilification” against Prater, and that the damage followed Prater to a new position at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

The report charged that the fact the lawsuit is continuing “could spook” other schools that have adopted Muslim regime ideologies and suppressed depictions of Muhammad, images to which Muslim students often object.

Those fights already have erupted at San Francisco State and Macalester, another Minnesota school.

While the judge dismissed Prater’s claims of reprisal, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, UCLA First Amendment law professor Eugene Volokh explained in an analysis that Prater may have an opening at a later stage of litigation in her “nonconformance’ argument, that demanding an employee “avoid what some religious people see as blasphemy” is the same as forcing them to “affirmatively engage in religious worship.”

FIRE told the publication it will be “very interesting” to watch the religious discrimination claim develop in court.

Menendez’ ruling was that Prater plausibly alleged that Hamline discriminated against her because she was “not a Muslim or did not conform to a believe that certain Muslims share.”

In Minnesota, its Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination “because of … religion.”

The judge said it was problematic for the school that administrators complained she “did not conform to the belief that one should not view images of the Prophet Muhammad for any reason.”

Hamline initially called the professor “Islamophobic” but later admitted that that conclusion was “flawed.”

“There have been many communications, articles and opinion pieces that have caused us to review and re-examine our actions. Hamline is a multi-cultural, multi-religious community that has been a leader in creating space for civil conversations. Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep. In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” the school said.

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