UIMSA has taken the last couple days to consider the statement put out about our prayer and meditation spaces by the Freedom from Religion organization, and while we find it unfortunate that they feel negatively about about having a safe space for students on campus to meditate, we appreciate their dedication to upholding the U.S. Constitution. However, we find that the the existence of the prayer and meditation spaces at the University of Iowa to be completely within the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution, and believe that some misunderstandings are clouding the judgement of onlookers in this situation.
First, we would like to make it clear that the prayer and meditation spaces on campus are not specific to Muslim students and faculty, but anyone from any or no religion who would like to take time out of their day for reflection, meditation, or prayer, in a safe space on campus. We do not deny that we predict the rooms to be used most by Muslim students and faculty, as Muslims are required by their faith to pray five times a day, something uncommon in other religions. We maintain, though, that the rooms are open to all on an equal basis, regardless of religion.
Secondly, as per the issue of gender segregation, it is our understanding that the University was unable to provide a singular large room, so instead designated two smaller rooms for the use of prayer and meditation. In this situation, it was found plausible to provide those identifying as women, and who wish to pray or meditate separate from men, a separate room for their comfort and convenience. While many Muslim women do prefer to pray in separate spaces from men, we see this decision as regardless of religious preferences, and simply a matter of accommodation and convenience. It is also necessary to point out that gender segregation is not enforced, and use of the two rooms is open to all genders.
Finally, we would like to remind all concerned parties that the existence of these prayer spaces neither coerces students into any religious activity, nor disrupts any student activity, as the rooms are set aside in an area of the Iowa Memorial Union rarely frequented by students. With this in mind, we are confident that these spaces are entirely constitutional.
We are aware that the University of Iowa will be issuing a statement in response to the concerns put forth by the Freedom from Religion organization, and we will stand behind the university's statement.
On a final note, we would like to thank the University of Iowa staff and faculty for being so gracious and steadfast in their support for safe prayer and meditation spaces for students of all backgrounds. We look forward to many years of inclusiveness and diversity at this great institution.