In the middle of Holy Week, heading into Easter, two Muslims expressed outrage over disrespect of a religious symbol that is sacred to them. The Muslims, who spoke with The Gazette, were not complaining about a minister burning the Quran or an insulting Muhammad cartoon.
The Muslims were upset because Florida Atlantic University cultural communications instructor Deandre Poole asked each student to write “Jesus” on paper, place it on the floor and stomp on it. It was Poole’s way of showing students that words and symbols have meaning. This is what tuition pays for these days.
Junior Ryan Rotella, a Mormon, told Poole the instruction was offensive. He placed his paper on a surface and left the class.
When Rotella complained to the university’s administration about the demand of his instructor, they punished Rotella. They suspended him from the class, in writing. A good lawyer successfully demanded an apology and Rotella’s full reinstatement.
“We love and revere Jesus,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for CAIR. “No Muslim would step on Jesus. If the professor demands it, the proper response for a Muslim is: ‘No, and I’m about to call my lawyer.’”
His colleague, communication manager Amina Rubin, said the request is “a shocking example of harassment and discrimination.”
“A lot of people tell Muslims that we should be more like Christians and just take it when someone does something irreverent to that which we hold sacred,” Rubin said. “Yet part of being reverent involves standing up, as this student did, when someone tries to denigrate that which is sacred.”
The university’s tolerance policy, which is designed to protect students from actions and words that offend their religious and cultural values, says: “At FAU, all people are respected. The university has a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of harassment and discrimination, whether or not it is expressly covered by law.”
If a teacher ordered a Hindu student to stomp on Ghandi, most would see this as blatant harassment and discrimination. An order to stomp on Martin Luther King, Jr., harasses and discriminates against all who cherish our country’s hard-fought pursuit of civil rights for minorities. Clearly, an instructor would insult Muslims by asking students to step on Muhammad.
When a minister threatened to burn the Quran in 2010, President Barack Obama intervened. He implored the minister to cancel his plans because “what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans.”
President Obama was 100 percent correct. In this country, we have the right to burn a flag, to desecrate the Quran or to rip a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live. But rights, as protected in the Constitution, do not define the boundaries of decency and respect that characterize our civilization. Just because we may insult one another doesn’t mean we should. Liberty survives only in a context of shared morality and self-restraint.
Americans have become sensitive to the plights of minorities who have been ostracized and persecuted by majorities for far too long. That sensitivity has led to laws and codes of conduct, such as Florida Atlantic’s diversity policy.
It is difficult to fathom how a school — one that promotes tolerance and diversity as its highest values — would back an employee in telling students to disrespect a religious figure held sacred by billions around the world.
Hiram Sasser, the attorney who knocked sense into the college administration, said diversity policies are often misused until taken to the courts.
“A lot of those who talk about diversity also criticize those who hold traditional religious beliefs sacred,” Sasser explained. “It’s not really about diversity. It’s about deciding which values we are going to revere and which we are going to silence. Sometimes it’s about telling those with traditional beliefs to be quiet or convert to something else in order to gain acceptance.”
Liberty is not something we should allocate disproportionately among chosen demographics. We cannot correct injustices of the past by imposing them on today’s safe targets, such as members of majority religions.
As we remember the original persecution of Jesus on the cross, let’s take to heart the values he gave us. Let’s stand up, peacefully, against those who gratuitously insult or inflict pain on others. It’s what Jesus would do.