She Lost Her Job For Showing a Painting of Muhammad in Class. Now, She’s Suing.
Hamline University, a liberal arts college in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has come under fire in recent weeks after it refused to renew the contract of an adjunct professor who had shown images of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class. Now the professor at the center of the controversy is suing, alleging religious discrimination and defamation.
In October, Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor at Hamline, showed students in an art history class two images of Muhammad. Both images were created by Muslim artists in the 14th and 16th centuries and were intended to show devotion and reverence to the prophet.
According to the lawsuit, López Prater was aware that some observant Muslim students would not wish to view the images and made considerable efforts to accommodate them. López Prater wrote in the course syllabus that the class would include “showing and discussing both representational and non-representational depictions of holy figures (for example, the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, and the Buddha),” adding, “if you have any questions or concerns about either missing class for a religious observance or the visual content that will be presented, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
No students expressed concerns to López Prater, according to the lawsuit. López Prater also warned students multiple times during the class itself, giving them ample opportunity to leave class or look away.
That wasn’t enough for Aram Wedatalla, the president of Hamline’s Muslim Student Association. Wedatalla complained first to López Prater and then to the school’s administration. Within weeks, López Prater had been formally denounced by the administration, which described her actions as “Islamophobic” and insisted that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”
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