WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A committee overseeing the Wichita State University chapel might consider more changes after previous renovations drew criticism that the alterations were made to accommodate Muslims over Christians, a university official said.
About 60 people attended a public meeting Friday to discuss the Harvey D. Grace Memorial chapel, where pews were replaced with moveable chairs and a small altar was removed in May. Supporters said Christians, not Muslims, had sought the changes to make it a more flexible worship space.
Both sides agreed that the family who donated funding for the chapel in 1964 specified that it remain open to all creeds and races but they disagreed on what that meant, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The renovations were first suggested by Christians in 2012. As the proposal moved through the university’s approval process, Muslim supported it because they have difficulty finding places to kneel and pray on campus. There are about 1,000 Muslims among Wichita State’s 14,450 students.
After the renovations were criticized on Facebook by Wichita State alumna Ann Cusick, university donors, alumni and others began posting comments and contacting university administrators. Cusick did not attend Friday’s meeting.
Lisa Ritchie, the only opponent on the four-member town hall panel, said she believes the chapel should be a Christian house of worship. She acknowledged that it was meant to be open to all races and faiths but said it should be “welcoming to all to point them to Jesus.”
Taben Azad, a Wichita State student senator and vice president of the Muslim students association, said he was dismayed that the renovations had prompted online expressions of “hate speech” and “Islamophobia.” He said the school needs “to stand against racism of all types.”
Ritchie also said Muslims could pray at a mosque near campus but Azad said Muslim students would have a difficult time leaving campus to pray five times a day.
“Just because there is a nearby mosque doesn’t mean we have to push them out,” Azad said.
University vice president Eric Sexton said the committee overseeing the chapel will consider the input from the meeting while determining if further changes are needed.
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