I fear we may be setting some sort of record for discussions of foot washing in a nationally-important journal, but it does hit on several important issues. As a self-designated “religious liberty guy,” I thought I’d weigh in with a couple points.
First, in theory, spending a bit of money building foot baths is not an outrage but instead a justifiable and appropriate accommodation for a significant religious minority. America – and American public institutions – should be havens for religious liberty and work hard to accommodate the sincere and peaceful religious practices of their citizens. This approach is all upside. It creates a bond between religious citizens and their government, it prevents religion as being viewed as something best kept private, and it comes at very little cost.
Second, theories are fine, but in the real world double standards are everywhere. By this point, Christian students are growing accustomed to a literal avalanche of indignities, large and small, whether it’s being chased from meeting rooms at Michigan (as Michael relates in the post below to actually being punished by a state university in Georgia for engaging in foot washing at an off-campus event, the growing evidence of comprehensive bigotry and discrimination against evangelicals is in profound contrast to the generous accommodation of Muslim students. One university even went so far as to prosecute Christian students who allegedly desecrated the name of Allah by stepping on Hamas and Hezbollah flags. Left unanswered, of course, is the question of whether the greater “desecration” is in fact placing the name of God on terrorist flags in the first place.
The foot-washing issue is not difficult. Respect religious liberty (everyone’s religious liberty), create reasonable accommodations that recognize our tax-paying religious citizens as full members of our civic community, and don’t play favorites. But I suppose that such common sense solutions aren’t workable when academics have greater ideological axes to grind.