By Shane Dingman
It’s my birthday today, and my present seems to be an overwhelming sense of outrage.
Every once in a while, an issue comes along that seems so crystal clear in its resolution that the best outcome seems both simple and inevitable. Of course, here at Ryerson we seem unable to manage these situations without outrageous egotism and numbing intractability causing bloody street battles that leave both sides exhausted and disillusioned.
What in the name of ten screaming monkeys am I talking about? I am referring to the simple request by the Ryerson Muslim Students Association to be allowed to use the Lower Gym, which is freely available to all students for bookings, as a prayer space. I am also referring to the reflexive and grotesque decision to deny this request on hazy and illogical grounds. For the full story on these events, I refer you to our page three story on the events of last Friday.
Sometimes it seems like the official stance of this university is decided by a herd of insane donkeys. That being said, I marvel at the cojones of administration officials who take a chainsaw to our rights and freedoms. Now I know, us Canadians are nice people who don’t like to say boo when we get trod on by big brother, but goddamn children, grow a spine!
I keep the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on my bulletin board and let me refer you to a little thing called Section two: Fundamental Freedoms, subsections A, C and D. They read that all Canadians are given the freedom of conscience and religion, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association.
Now I don’t call myself a constitutional expert, but the only thing that allows the circumvention of those freedoms is a demonstrably justifiable reasonable limit. For example, it is a reasonable limit on your freedom of association to deny you the right to peacefully assemble in the middle of a busy freeway. The university has told the Muslims to stick their prayers up their collective ass on the grounds that a) Ryerson is a secular university, b) The Lower Gym is to be used for academic and recreational purposes only and c) you could always take your congregation elsewhere.
To refute them point-by-point, let us note that being a secular university has not stopped Ryerson from designating prayer space on campus before, like the now too small multi-faith room. So to deny that the university creates prayer space for interested individuals is crap.
As for academic or recreational purposes only, that definition is so broad as to allow almost any interpretation of activities in there. Also, using the gym for photo days is a non-academic, non-recreational use.
RMSA is told it should just take the congregation elsewhere. But this leads into the really dangerous part of the equation.
Ask yourself, what is the basis for denying the request of these students? It is possible that the geniuses upstairs haven’t realized that to say: “Our toleration for your religion goes only so far,” is in effect a type of religious discrimination.
Likely this policy is meant for all religions, not just Muslims, but a broadly-applied discrimination is no less heinous. It turns religiously oriented students into second-class citizens on their own campus, unable to book space other students are entitled too because their desire to express faith on campus is limited to certain acceptable areas.
What exactly does the university fear about prayer?
Applying the harm principle: who does it harm to allow students to pray in the gym? As far as I can tell, as long as any other student or group of students, is still allowed to book that space out on a first-come first-served basis, no one is harmed. The reasonable limit on that might be banning activities that would damage the facility, like a clog dancing competition. But Muslims pray with their shoes off, kneeling on cotton mats, hardly a cause for concern for the precious floor surface.
So then, inverting the equation I ask: Who does banning students from the gym benefit. And here I draw a blank. Who? The Shriners? Snake handlers? Albanian pyramid schemers? And for this Muslim sensibilities get tossed in the wood chipper of obtuse policy, for a decision, which has no apparent gain for the university.
I wish the RMSA would stick it to the maniacs who decide these things and show up to Friday prayers with a nerfball and say they are staging a large game of dodgeball. Let’s see the school police that: “You over there! Stop chatting about God! Stand up asshole! Don’t you know this space is for academic or recreational use only?”
I’ve watched some junk reasoning lay obscene trips on the campus before, but this has to take the cake. Of course, making absolute statements like that means that I’m almost certain to be proven heinously wrong soon. Still, it had to be said.
In contrast to the barbaric behaviours of our supposed enlightened elites, I must point out that the RMSA has been the model of polite protest. In the PR war, especially after the Toronto Sun, CBC and CFMT showed up last Friday the score is RMSA 1, Ryerson The Big Zero. But as a bight colleague of mine pointed out, things have progressed to the point where the mandarins of the 3th floor can’t back down without losing some serious face.