Art professor SUES woke college which fired her for showing Muhammad painting

An art professor has sued a college for defamation and religious discrimination after she was ousted for showing students a painting of the Prophet Muhammad and branded Islamophobic.

Erika Lopez Prater announced the suit against Hamline University in Minnesota Tuesday evening. 

Hamline – which initially defended its authoritarian behavior – has since said its decision to accuse Prater of discrimination against Muslims was ‘flawed.’ 

Prater’s lawsuit highlights how she repeatedly warned students before October’s class about the image she planned to show, which was painted by a Muslim. 

Many Muslims say it is forbidden to display images of the Prophet Muhammad, although America’s largest Muslim rights organization has defended Prater, and agrees her behavior was not Islamophobic.

Her suit says: ‘Students viewing the online class had ample warning about the paintings.

Professor Erika Lopez Prater was relieved of her post at Hamline University in October, after showing students the image amid a discussion of Islamic art

Professor Erika Lopez Prater was relieved of her post at Hamline University in October, after showing students the image amid a discussion of Islamic art

‘Students viewing the online class also had ample opportunity to turn away from their computer screens, turn their screens away from them, turn off their screens, or even leave their rooms before the paintings were displayed.’

Prater’s attorney David Redden further alleges that she was told by a department leader that it sounded as if she’d ‘done everything right.’ 

But in November, Prater was told her class was being canceled from spring, with the woke college’s Office of Inclusive Excellence sending around an email branding Prater’s class ‘undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.’ 

Redden alleges this was defamatory, and says Hamline staff turned his client into a ‘pariah,’ while crushing anyone who tried to support her. 

He said she was further defamed in a student newspaper ‘discussion’ about her behavior, and alleges Prater herself was the victim of religious discrimination.

Aram Wedatalla, the 23-year-old student who led the complaints against López Prater, celbrated the firing. saying'It just breaks my heart that I have to stand here to tell people that something is Islamophobic and something actually hurts all of us, not only me'

Aram Wedatalla, the 23-year-old student who led the complaints against López Prater, celbrated the firing. saying ‘It just breaks my heart that I have to stand here to tell people that something is Islamophobic and something actually hurts all of us, not only me’

Redden says this is because Prater ‘is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.’ 

The lawsuit came hours after a top Muslim rights group panned accusations of Islamophobia surrounding a college professor who was fired for showing a painting of the prophet Muhammad to her students. 

Erika Lopez Prater was relieved of her post at Hamline University in October, after showing students the image amid a discussion of Islamic art.

Conscious that in some branches of Islam it is blasphemous to look at any image of the Prophet, Prater warned student in writing the class would feature pictures of the 14th-century religious figure.

Despite allowing students to leave the room during the lesson, several complained – and Prater, 42, lost her job. Afterwards, the students, led by 23-year-old Muslim Aram Wedatalla, touted the dismissal as a victory.

The incident has since spawned responses from civil rights groups who have condemned the firing  – with the National Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) now the latest to contest the decision.

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In a press release Friday, the Washington DC- based advocacy group offered its official stance on the controversy, asserting that academics should not be condemned as ‘bigots’ without the proper justification.

The response comes after an executive of the civil right’s group’s Minnesota chapter celebrated the firing, condemning the Muhammad depiction as ‘blasphemy’ and an infringement on students’ rights.

The CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, joins organizations like The American Civil Liberties Union ACLU, PEN America, The New York Times and Fox News in condemning the decision. 

‘Academics should not be condemned as bigots without evidence or lose their positions without justification,’ an excerpt from the statement read.

‘Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the Prophet, we recognize that professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense,’ it continued.

The CAIR, led by Nihad Awad, joined organizations like The American Civil Liberties Union ACLU, PEN America, The New York Times and Fox News Friday in condemning the firing

The CAIR, led by Nihad Awad, joined organizations like The American Civil Liberties Union ACLU, PEN America, The New York Times and Fox News Friday in condemning the firing

‘Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that Professor Erika López Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia.’ 

The statement did not mention how the firing was earlier celebrated by CAIR-MN’s Jaylani Hussein, executive director of its Minnesota sect.

Hussein, like several others who have supported Prater’s firing in recent months, slammed the academic’s decision to show the art piece offensive and ‘an act of Islamophobia.’ 

A day after the CAIR slammed the firing, Prater made her first public appearance, appearing in open forum discussing her firing presided over by Islam and global affairs Muqtedar Khan.

The statement did not mention how the firing was earlier celebrated by CAIR-MN's Jaylani Hussein, executive director of its Minnesota sect, earlier in the week. Hussein last week slammed the academic's decision to show the art piece offensive and'an act of Islamophobia'

The statement did not mention how the firing was earlier celebrated by CAIR-MN’s Jaylani Hussein, executive director of its Minnesota sect, earlier in the week. Hussein last week slammed the academic’s decision to show the art piece offensive and ‘an act of Islamophobia’

Khan, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware where he heads its Islamic Studies Program, was joined by scholars Dr. Christiane Gruber, Salam Al-Marayati, and Dr. Hyder Khan in a pointed talk about the repercussions of the university’s decision.

During the discussion, Prater – who plans to teach at Macalester College in the spring – revealed that she had had a discussion with at least one of the students who her spurred her firing, who she said ‘had some pretty strong feelings’ on the matter. 

‘We did have a conversation with one of the students who was objecting to it after the class, right – like, what were her principal objections besides saying that this is forbidden in Islam. She had some pretty strong feelings that she expressed to me. 

‘We did have a conversation with one of the students who was objecting to it after the class, right – like, what were her principal objections besides saying that this is forbidden in Islam. She had some pretty strong feelings that she expressed to me. 

Professor Prater, on speaking to one of the students who campaigned to have her fired 

‘One of them that perhaps gets to the heart of the matter,’ she continued, ‘was that she thought that the warnings that I had provided to the class didn’t even matter.

‘She believed that images of the Prophet Muhammad should never be shown full stop – even if those are pedagogically relevant images.’

Lopez Prater said that while she may disagree with the university’s decision, she respected the student’s stance – despite giving multiple written and verbal warnings that the art history course would touch on religious iconography, including the famed 14th-century painting of Muhammad, which DailyMail.com has chosen not to publish.

The saga started October 6, when Lopez Prater was teaching the online class about Islamic art that was part of a wider curriculum on pieces from all over the world. That day, she chose to analyze a 14th-century depiction of the angel Gabriel delivering the Prophet’s first revelation. 

Many Muslims believe that even looking at pictures of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous

Many Muslims believe that even looking at pictures of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous

Conscious that in some branches of Islam it is blasphemous to look at any image of the Prophet, Professor Lopez Prater gave students two minutes to look away from the screen or log out before she projected the image onto her presentation.  

Wedatalla, the president of the university’s Muslim association who spearheaded the campaigning to get Lopez Prater fired, chose to remain online in the class. 

Afterwards, she and others promptly complained to school officials that the image ‘blindsided’ her and made her feel marginalized.  

Lopez Prater was fired after more students – including some who were not in the class – complained.

The incident raised discussions about the fate of academic freedom and whether the professor’s actions were hateful.

During the Minnesota press conference last week where Hussein offered her opinion on the matter, Wedatalla was present, fighting back tears as she recalled the incident the the crowd.

In a press conference held on Wednesday at the Minneapolis headquarters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) Wedatalla (pictured) fought back tears as she spoke of the incident

In a press conference held on Wednesday at the Minneapolis headquarters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) Wedatalla (pictured) fought back tears as she spoke of the incident

‘I’m 23 years old. I have never once seen an image of the prophet,’ she said in the conference streamed live on CAIR-MN’s Facebook page, adding that she felt marginalized.

‘It just breaks my heart that I have to stand here to tell people that something is Islamophobic and something actually hurts all of us, not only me.’

CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein previously said in a statement that most Muslims around the world oppose the public display of images of the Prophet Muhammad.

To show the image of the prophet, said Hussein, is deeply offensive, and she called the violation ‘an act of Islamophobia.’

‘In reality, a trigger warning is an indication that you are going to do harm,’ he said, adding that it doesn’t matter that the instructor warned students before showing the image. 

Lopez Prater, meanwhile, said Saturday that she will continue participating in a variety of forums on academic freedom, as several groups have offered statements of support for the embattled professor. 

Last week, the president of the small liberal arts college, Fayneese Miller, defended the decision, revealing that faculty members and a student had received death threats over the past few weeks

Last week, the president of the small liberal arts college, Fayneese Miller, defended the decision, revealing that faculty members and a student had received death threats over the past few weeks

Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College, penned an opinion piece bashing the firing for The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, Khalid, who is Muslim wrote that she does not view her contemporary’s decision to show the artwork as Islamophobic.

‘Islamophobic is about malintent towards Muslims, or something that is symbolic to Muslims. There is no malintent here,’ she wrote.

Khalid added that Hamline should have responded to Wedatalla’s complaint differently.

‘Hamline University should have said, “Well, we understand you are offended. Your offense is a great moment to learn more about the Islamic tradition because, clearly, you are coming from a very particular point of view,”‘ she said.

 Last week, the president of the small liberal arts college – situated in St Paul, Minnesota – defended the decision, revealing that faculty members and a student had received death threats over the past few weeks.

Fayneese Miller wrote in a statement that while Hamline respected the professor’s rights of freedom of speech, their overriding priority was to protect students.

‘Prioritizing the well-being of our students does not in any way negate or minimize the rights and privileges assured by academic freedom,’ she wrote.

‘Academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior.’

Miller quoted the American Federation of Teachers as ‘correctly’ stating that ‘academic freedom and its attendant rights do not mean that ‘anything goes’.

Hamline University is a small liberal arts college in St Paul, Minnesota where Lopez Prater had been working before her dismissal following the controversial October online art lesson

Hamline University is a small liberal arts college in St Paul, Minnesota where Lopez Prater had been working before her dismissal following the controversial October online art lesson

Miller added: ‘It notes that ‘faculty must act professionally in their scholarly research, their teaching, and their interactions with students and…ensure this through policies and procedures that safeguard both students and the academic integrity of the institutions and disciplines’.’

She asked: ‘Does your defense of academic freedom infringe upon the rights of students in violation of the very principles you defend?’

Miller also issued a harsh rebuttal of her critics, calling them misguided and ill-informed.

‘It is far easier to criticize, from the security of our computer screens, than it is to have to make the hard decisions that serve the interests of the entire campus community,’ she wrote.

‘What disappoints me the most is that little has been said regarding the needs and concerns of our students that all members of our community hold in trust. I hope this changes.’

the ACLU also slammed the university for'punishing educators for presenting controversial material'

The ACLU also slammed the university for ‘punishing educators for presenting controversial material’

Miller concluded: ‘I also note that Hamline is an independent university still closely affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and its foundational principles inscribed in the oft-repeated words on our campus of John Wesley: ‘To do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’

‘We at Hamline live by these words.

‘To do all the good you can means, in part, minimizing harm.

‘That is what has informed our decisions thus far and will continue to inform them in the future.

‘We hope you understand and respect the values guiding our efforts.’

That said, even if the school decides to change its tune, Hamline earlier this week told MPR News that even if she was offered her job back, she would not return.

‘Not at this time,’ the educator told the outlet, alluding that she had already hired counsel and is exploring legal actions against the school.

Earlier this week it emerged Hamline could lose its accreditation after a formal complaint was filed against it for firing Lopez Prater.

An attorney sent the complaint to the Higher Learning Commission saying the liberal college was ‘failing to protect the academic freedom’.

Meanwhile the ACLU also slammed the university for ‘punishing educators for presenting controversial material’.

Many practicing Muslims do not believe in looking at pictures of the Prophet Muhammad as they believe it may lead to worshipping an image.

Despite this, the CAIR stated that while they frown upon visual representations of the prophet, they saw seen ‘no evidence’ that López Prater was being Islamophobic or acting upon bigotry when she showed the piece. 

A wrongful termination suit against the school has yet to be filed.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11646465/Muslim-rights-group-slams-university-firing-professor-showed-class-painting-Muhammad.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Art professor SUES woke college which fired her for showing Muhammad painting

Bradford Betz

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