POLITICS
12/16/2015 06:25 pm ET

Catholic School Defends Prayer Room For Muslim Students

"We have this sacred space available for you if you want it."

Parents of several students at a private Catholic school in Michigan have been protesting the existence of a prayer room used by the Muslim students. In an email to local station WXYZ, one parent claimed it was "unconscionable" and would undermine her child's religious education.

But school president John Birney is standing his ground, saying the room will remain open for any students who want to pray there.

Birney, who heads the all-boys Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, noted that a number of parents have emailed him to voice their disapproval, according to WXYZ.

In fact, he said, making accommodation for non-Catholic students is very much in line with the thinking and teaching at the school, which was founded by the Congregation of Christian Brothers of Ireland. 

"Is [the prayer room] something that compromises our faith and identity, or is it in fact consistent with the respect that we have? We are Catholic in the sense that we share the 'good news.' We are not Catholic in the sense, 'Hey, if you're not Catholic, don't bother coming here,'" Birney told WXYZ.

The 650 or so students at Brother Rice include several who don't practice Catholicism, according to Birney.

"When the question was, 'Is there a place that I can pray?' the answer that evolved was yes," he told WXYZ. "We have this sacred space available for you if you want it."

No student has made a formal complaint about the prayer room, Fox 2 News reports, and not all parents take issue with it.

"The people that are going to Brother Rice, they're already accepting the fact that we have to live in this world together as Christians, Muslims, whatever, and if they're around Brother Rice and see people that will walk the talk and are good people, and it's not all about them, it helps everyone," John Everley, whose children went to the school, told Fox 2 News. "I see the parents -- they're worried. They see things out there, but the worst thing is to separate and assume the worst about everyone."

Brother Rice is not alone in making spiritual accommodation for non-Christian students: A Catholic high school in Ontario, Canada, created an Islamic prayer room a few years ago.

Birney also asked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit for guidance. While the high school is not affiliated with the archdiocese, officials there informed him there is precedent within the church's teachings and actions for an interfaith prayer room. 

"The Archdiocese of Detroit has provided Brother Rice High School with information in regards to the precedent in the Catholic Church for respecting the religious liberty -- including the ability to pray -- for non-Christians who are present at a great number of Church institutions worldwide, including schools, universities, hospitals, soup kitchens and shelters," archdiocese spokesman Joe Kohn said in an email to HuffPost.  "Such respect for non-Christian people of faith is in keeping with what the Church teaches and what the Church Fathers put forth at the Second Vatican Council."

As the Muslim students at Brother Rice respect the Catholic faith, Birney told WXYX, the school should respect theirs as well.

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