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Free Speech

Hamline Adjunct Fired for Showing Muhammad Images Sues + Hamline Statement Seems to Backtrack


The Pioneer Press (Josh Verges) reports [UPDATE: see also the Complaint]:

The adjunct professor accused of Islamophobia for showing artwork in class that depicted the Prophet Muhammad filed a lawsuit against Hamline University on Tuesday as Hamline's president conceded the school mishandled the controversy.

Professor Erika Lopez Prater is suing the school in Ramsey County District Court for defamation, breach of contract and religious discrimination, among other claims….

David Everett, associate vice president of inclusive excellence, sent a Nov. 7 email to all employees and students saying an incident had taken place in an online class that was "undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic."

Separately, Dean of Students Patti Kersten called Lopez Prater's decision to show the artwork "an act of intolerance," according to The Oracle, the student newspaper that first reported on the controversy.

And, in a Dec. 9 email to staff, Everett and President Fayneese Miller said that "respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom." …

[The complaint argued that the school discriminated against Lopez Prater] by imposing the Muslim student's "interpretation of Islam on all Hamline employees and students." …

The article also quotes a statement released today by Hamline President Fayneese Miller and Board of Trustees Chair Ellen Watters, which said:

Hamline is a multi-cultural, multi-religious community that has been a leader in creating space for civil conversations. 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. We strongly support academic freedom for all members of the Hamline community….

We have learned much from the many scholars, religious leaders and thinkers from around the world on the complexity of displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad. We have come to more fully understand the differing opinions that exist on this matter within the Muslim community. And, we welcome the opportunity, along with our students and the broader community, to listen and learn more. We, like our higher education partners, want to do more to show that academic freedom and student support are both integral to the very fabric of who we are.