A tearful Aram Wedatalla describing how her heart was broken after seeing a painting of the “prophet” Mohammed. Image via YouTube/Fox news.
THE hysterical response by Hamline University student Aram Wedatalla, above, to a 14th century painting of Mohammed took a new twist yesterday when adjuct professor Erika López Prater, who showed the image, brought a lawsuit against Hamline.
After Wedatalla, 23, complained about the depiction of the “prophet” Hamline accused Prater of “Islamophobia” and announced that it would not be renewing her contract.
In her lawsuit, Prater alleges that Hamline University—a small, private school in St. Paul—subjected her to religious discrimination and defamation, and damaged her professional and personal reputation.
Her attorneys said in a statement:
Among other things, Hamline, through its administration, has referred to Dr. López Prater’s actions as ‘undeniably Islamophobic’. Comments like these, which have now been published in news stories around the globe, will follow Dr. López Prater throughout her career, potentially resulting in her inability to obtain a tenure track position at any institution of higher education.
Image via YouTube
Hamline University President Fayneese Miller, above, and Ellen Watters, the Board of Trustees chair, released a joint statement this week saying that recent “communications, articles and opinion pieces” have led the school to “review and re-examine our actions.”
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 statement did not address the lawsuit, but said the university strongly supports academic freedom, which should co-exist with support for students. The university plans to hold two public conversations in coming months, one on academic freedom and student care and another on academic freedom and religion.
According to the lawsuit, López Prater’s course syllabus included a note that students would view images of religious figures, including the “prophet”.
The syllabus also included an offer to work with students uncomfortable with viewing those images.
She also warned the class immediately before showing the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. She said in media interviews last week that her goal was to teach students about the “rich diversity” of attitudes toward such imagery.
López Prater has said she and the department chair were discussing her teaching a new course, but after the student’s complaint she was told “her services were no longer needed.”
Hamline ‘imposed Wedatalla’s religious view on others’
The lawsuit alleges that instead of Hamline recognising that Prater showed the images with a proper academic purpose, the university chose to impose the student’s religious view that no one should ever view images of the prophet on all other students and employees.
On Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national civil rights organization for Muslims, disputed the belief that López Prater’s behavior was Islamophobic. The group said professors who analyse images of the “prophet” for academic purposes are not the same as:
Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.
At a news conference last week organised by supporters of López Prater’s firing, Wedatalla—president of Hamline’s Muslim Student Association—said she had never seen a depiction of the “prophet”until the October class.
It just breaks my heart that I have to stand here to tell people that something is Islamophobic and something actually hurts all of us, not only me.
The university said on Tuesday it has learned much about the complexity of displaying images of the “Prophet “prophet” and understands differing opinions on the issue exist within the Muslim community.
Higher education is about learning and growing. We have certainly learned and continue to grow as we generate new knowledge to share with all of our Hamline community.
I have seen not reports suggesting that the university intends reinstating Prater.
A petition supporting the professor says:
They [the university] set a dangerous precedent should future students request that the university “ban” the teaching of other art historical materials—such as Byzantine icons of Jesus Christ, figural statues of the Buddha, Jewish depictions of Moses at Dura Europos, etc.—on campus.
Beyond undermining diversity and inclusion, therefore, Hamline University is imperiling equity in education for all of its students, regardless of faith, creed, origin, and identity.
As of today (Thursday) almost 18,000 people have signed it.
Commenting on the controversy, Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta wrote:
The purpose of college, at least in theory, is to educate students and expose them to ideas with which they may not be familiar. No professor should be fired for a thoughtful, justifiable lesson about Muhammad (or any other subject) just because a student refused to be educated and administrators prioritized her irrational beliefs over their school’s mission.
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