He fired the art professor, sued, and showed Mohammed’s photos. Here’s what you should know.


Hamlin University in Minnesota has been embroiled in controversy after an assistant professor of art history said she was fired after complaints about her use of images of the Prophet Muhammad during a lecture last fall. In recent weeks, the incident at the small liberal arts college has spilled into a broader perspective and raised questions about campus inclusion, religious discrimination and academic freedom.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the professor, Erica Lopez-Prater, filed a lawsuit with Hamline, among other claims, alleging religious discrimination and defamation by the school. Lopez-Prater, through her attorney, and Hamlin University declined to comment on the lawsuit on Wednesday.

This situation has propelled Hamline University, a private university in St. Paul with an enrollment of about 1,800 undergraduates, into the national spotlight—for “all the wrong reasons” I inherited the student’s newspaper. Scholars in art history and other disciplines have been infuriated by what they see as an affront to academic freedom, and confused over how to share medieval paintings of Muhammad by Muslims. It could be construed as anti-Islamic, as suggested by Hamlin before retracting. Some of Hamelin’s Muslim students, a minority at the school, and their allies said that displaying images of the Prophet in any form is an attack on their core beliefs and that academic institutions have the right to restrict speech that creates hate or a hostile environment.

What happened to Lopez Prater’s job at Hamelin?

Lopez-Prater’s contract as an assistant professor was not renewed for the spring, contrary to her expectations, according to her attorney David H. Raiden.

Hamlin controversies A non-renewal constitutes a “dismissal” or “dismissal,” though Redden said the school discriminates without difference.

“It’s a semantic argument that didn’t really matter,” Redden said of the non-renewal, “because she had a working relationship that was expected to continue based on what was presented to her—and it wasn’t her decision.”

Lopez-Prater was hired to teach a global art course for the fall term, and was soon invited to return and teach in the spring, though her contract at that point had not been officially renewed, according to the lawsuit.

On October 6, López-Prater gave an online lecture showcasing Muhammad’s paintings. According to the lawsuit, Lopez-Prater’s plan to show sacred images — and direct them to religiously observant students seeking dispensations — was approved by her supervisor.

Immediately after class, a student stayed in the video session to express her anger, which was echoed by other Muslim students and faculty at Hamelin in subsequent days. Less than three weeks later, Lopez Prater was informed by the school that her contract would not be renewed.

The lawsuit says Lopez-Prater’s supervisor did not respond when asked if the decision to cancel the spring contract resulted from the Oct. 6 incident. In a public statement, Hamlin said the decision not to give Lopez-Prater another class “was made at the unit level and is in no way reflective of her ability to teach the class appropriately.”

As a contract employee at a private university, Lopez-Prater does not have the same freedom of speech and legal protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments that she would have at a public university, Redden said. But Redden says Lopez-Prater is protected by the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which defends people who serve those of different faiths, and she can also sue for other civil lawsuits, such as defamation.

What pictures were shown in the course?

During an online Oct. 6 session for López-Prater’s class, she showed two medieval paintings depicting the Prophet Muhammad. One of them is a 14th-century work entitled “The Prophet Muhammad Receives Revelation from the Angel Gabriel.” The image appears in one of the earliest known Islamic illustrated histories, A Collection of Chronicles, by Rashid al-Din and depicts the angel Gabriel giving Muhammad his first Quranic revelation. In Islam, the Quran is the holiest of texts and is believed to be the word of God.

During the same class, López-Prater also showed a 16th-century portrait of Muhammad, shown with a veil over his face and body. Only his hands Visible, according to the complaint, which asserts that both images are valuable works of religious art and world history that belong to the classroom and are respected and appreciated by the founder of Islam.

Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic art in the University of Michigan’s Department of Art History, defended Lopez-Prater in a December article in New Lines magazine. Contrary to Hamlin’s claim that the professor’s actions were “anti-Islamic”, The common images, Gruber writes, were taken “almost without exception, by Muslim artists of Muslim patrons out of respect for and glorification of Muhammad and the Qur’an”.

Images of the Prophet Muhammad are considered sacrilegious to many Muslims – although there is no universal consensus on the issue within the religious community.

What is the reason for Lopez Prater’s lawsuit?

Lopez Prater names Hamlin University trustees in her lawsuit and alleges, among other allegations, religious discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act as well as defamation.

State law protects employees whose work suffers from inconsistency with the employer’s religious preferences, Redden said, or if the employee “does not comply with the discriminatory religion-based preferences of his clients.” In Hamlin’s case, it’s the customers the students.

The suit further alleges that Hamlin defamed Lopez-Prater by calling her actions “Islamophobic” and calling her behavior an “act of bigotry,” among other statements.

Lopez-Prater is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

Who objected to class Lopez Prater?

A senior and president of Hamelin University’s Muslim Student Association (MSA), Aram Wedatullah, was in the online class when the photos were shared, according to Hamlin Oracle.

“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real,’” Wedatallah told Oracle. “As a Muslim, and a black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I will ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and don’t show the same respect that I show them.” .

In Wadatala’s conversation with López Prater after class, she felt she was not being heard. “I was ignored, belittled and disrespected,” Wedatallah said one day. Press Conference On January 11th.

The day after the accident, on October 7, Wedatallah sent an email to the Ministry of Social Affairs and the university administration. Oracle said it met with the university’s president, Finnez Miller.

At the suggestion of her supervisor, Lopez-Prater emailed Wadatala the next day apologizing that the photos made her uncomfortable and saying she had no intention of disrespecting or upsetting anyone, according to the lawsuit.

At an MSA meeting, attended by the university’s administration, to discuss the incident, the students discussed “recurring incidents of bigotry and hate speech in recent years, and asked about new forms of intervention,” Oracle said.

Wedatallah declined to speak to The Washington Post.

Has Hamlin University changed its position on the alleged incident of Islamophobia?

Since the incident received national media attention, the university has retracted its earlier description of the incident as “Islamophobic”.

In a statement released Tuesday, Miller and the university’s president, Ellen Waters, said the language they had previously used did not reflect their feelings about academic freedom. “Based on everything we have learned, we have determined that our use of the term ‘anti-Islamic’ was wrong,” the statement read.

This contradicts an email, cited in the Lopez-Prater suit, from Chief Official David Everett on November 7, which described the incident in class as “inconsiderate, disrespectful, and anti-Islam.” The email did not specify the incident by names or dates.

“We believe Hamlin University’s retraction of the word ‘anti-Islam’ is the right decision,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The Post. “And we appreciate the president’s passion to protect and respect her students.”

The statement on Tuesday from Watters and Miller also said that academic freedom and student support must coexist: “Finally, it was never our intention to suggest that academic freedom is less important or valuable to our students – patronage does not ‘substitute’ academic freedom, the two co-exist.” .

Hamlin University told the newspaper it had no further comment at this time.

What is the response of the Muslim community?

In a press conference on January 11, the local Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called the incident in Hamlin Islamophobic.

The chapter’s executive director, Jilani Hussain, said displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad is offensive and that most Muslims around the world are against public display of images of the Prophet.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations could not be reached for comment.

the official speech A release by the National Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Friday, however, said the dismissal incident was not Islamophobic. Mitchell, the group’s deputy national director, told The Post that one of the reasons they came to this conclusion was that the professor had neither bigoted intent nor made a bigoted comment during class.

“Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that former Hamlin University assistant professor Erica Lopez-Prater acted with anti-Islamic intent or engaged in behavior consistent with our definition of Islamophobia,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ national office wrote in the statement.

The statement said that while many Muslims consider visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad sacrilegious, it should also be noted that Muslim artists have painted venerating paintings of the Prophet and that “Muslims are a diverse community and we respect that diversity.”

Other organizations, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, have also spoken out in favor of López-Prater. Council issued Permit Saying that López Prater was sent off wrongly. “Given the prevalence of anti-Islamic images of the Prophet Muhammad, it would be illogical to target an art professor trying to combat a narrow understanding of Islam,” the statement read.

Leave a Comment