Blame solves nothing

By Ben Li

No doubt exists that prayer space on campus needs to be addressed, but not through legal threats or allegations of wrongdoing or disseminating unsubstantiated information. Instead, a focused dialogue about definite needs and plans is needed–one that doesn’t burden everyone with blame–but this is where many seem stuck.

Worshippers blame the Students’ Union for not completing a prayer space, for alleged Charter violations in asking worshippers not to block hallways or exits with their activities, for unfair treatment, and for failing to communicate.

The SU blames worshippers for alleged health code violations, for inadequate notification of space needs, for assuming unwritten agreements survive between governments, and for failing to communicate.

But it is incorrect to only fault the other party for failing at two-way communication. Both parties clearly share fault for the current situation. But again, blame is about the past, cooperation is about the future.

So, let’s all pretend I caused the prayer space issue and work toward a solution.

First, the meditation room, which fits 15 people–many times smaller than the 100-300 in the campus community who gather to pray each Friday–is clearly inadequate. Worshippers who easily fill a quarter of either the old or new ballrooms would not fit into the space contemplated next to the current Chaplain’s Centre–a space not four times larger than the current meditation room. Student organizers seeking prayer space concessions from the SU demonstrated as much late last year in a failed media stunt which attempted to make a fire safety violation out of 100 people crammed into a small conference room.

Many view the most recent new prayer space planned for the other side of MacEwan Student Centre as the unequivocal final solution, yet neither the size of the new space nor its date of expected completion are known. Consultation between the builders and the users of the proposed new space would ensure needs are correctly met. Again, this represents a 10-year-old communication failure, if the prayer space issue is as old as some claim.

Second, everyone is free to partake in whatever religion they desire, but no one is entitled to public funding to facilitate religious practices. If this is not the case, please feel free to join my new, wholly university-funded "swallow gold-plated gemstones and privately meditate for eight hours per night" religion.

While the SU should continue to offer space in its building for group activities at very low cost (or free to clubs), it is also entitled to recouperate labour and material costs to prepare the space before and after student activities. It is incumbent upon clubs to book space responsibly, well in advance of their activities, and to only request as much setup as they will use.

Religious uses deserve no exceptions, as the SU is not in a position to determine what is or is not an important religious activity. Most religious events occur with great predictability, and group prayers have been conducted for centuries without the use of audio equipment–or designated prayer spaces for that matter–leaving neither the SU nor clubs any excuses for unanticipated charges or unbooked space for members.

Finally, obligations persist des-pite ignorance. No student group can be unfairly treated by being asked to comply with a just law. Commitments between organizations must transcend temporary leaders. And all parties involved should seek to genuinely engage issues before or as they emerge, and not months after the fact when it is politically convenient.

Faith and devotion must not give way to such posturing.

Leave a comment