Public Minnesota College to Install Foot-Washing Basins for Muslim Students

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 12, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The big issue, separation of church and state in America's state schools, of course, but there isn't going to be a separation of mosque and state at one public college in Minnesota. The school is going to install a special sink or several for Muslims to wash their feet, and taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill. BIG STORY correspondent Douglas Kennedy has the details. Douglas?

DOUGLAS KENNEDY, BIG STORY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah John this sink is for a pre-prayer wash and the school says it's to keep their students safe. Critics are calling it a double standard.


KENNEDY (VOICE-OVER): For practicing Muslims, daily prayer is a must. In fact, devout Muslims are required to bow to Mecca five times a day. Each time, washing their hands, their mouths, and especially their feet. Now a college in Minnesota wants to help their Muslim students do just that.

KATHERINE KERSTEN, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE: Well, the college is proposing to construct modifications to college bathroom facilities to create foot basins for ritual prayer preparation for Muslim students.

KENNEDY: Minneapolis Community and Technical College is a state-run university. Last year, it banned a campus coffee cart from playing Christmas carols. Katherine Kersten is a columnist for the "Minneapolis Star Tribune."

KERSTEN: Although Christianity is barred in public places during the holiday season, the college is actually going to be using taxpayer funds in order to construct daily prayer preparation facilities for Muslim students.

KENNEDY: This is not the first religious controversy to hit Minneapolis. Last year, Muslim cabbies began refusing fares for people carrying liquor, citing religious reasons. But college president Phil Davis says the two accommodations are very different. The foot washing facilities are not about religion, they are about customer service and public safety. Davis points out if there are no facilities, Muslim students will have to wash their feet in bathroom sinks which he says is not sanitary and dangerous for the students.

KERSTEN: There are a number of ways that this could be handled. Certainly students could be told that they simply could not use the public bathrooms to wash their feet. They could also be encouraged to talk to religious leaders about other abbreviated or accelerated ways to prepare for prayer, which are very much acceptable in mainstream Islamic practice.


KENNEDY: Davis says the school has tried unsuccessfully to dissuade students from washing their feet in hand sinks. He says the foot facility is the best way to accommodate what he says is a growing practice. He also says, John, the cost — he insists the costs will be modest.

GIBSON: Nonetheless paid by the taxpayers.

KENNEDY: Yeah that's right.

GIBSON: And on Monday morning, Douglas, the Minneapolis airport is going to vote on those Muslim cab drivers and what they're going to do about carrying alcohol.

KENNEDY: We will see what happens with that issue.

GIBSON: We certainly will. Douglas Kennedy, thank you.

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