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The political correctness at the root of disordered university thinking

The headlines are touting the decision by Duke officials to allow the “adhan” or Muslim Friday call to prayer to be broadcast from the top of the Duke Chapel starting Jan. 16. As a Duke graduate who is both a Jew and a proponent of religious tolerance, I find this offensive.

When I went to Duke in 1966, I came home for my first Thanksgiving with a Duke seal embroidered on my blue blazer. My rabbi at the time almost had a fit for the Duke—a Methodist-founded school—seal contains a big cross and he was not happy that I was trying to express my school loyalty in such a fashion. He sat me down and explained the differences between Christianity and Judaism yet again and the patch was removed from my blazer. He never said I could not be a loyal Blue Devil. I just could not wear a Christian symbol on my blazer as a Jew. We had been made to wear other such decorations on our clothes not so long before, not so far away, and this was intolerable to him. He was right.

A few years ago, the administration at a different university at which I was a professor wanted to cleanse a small chapel in its hospital of all Christian symbols despite the chapel having been donated years before by a group of Christians with a large endowment that was readily accepted by this state school. Apparently a non-Christian potential large donor made this demand if he was to write his big check.

I was the sole Jew on the Chaplaincy Board and I said no. This is a chapel given by a specific Christian denomination and is open for all to use, Jews, Muslims and Christians of all denominations. The three or four symbols of Christianity can be covered if desired, but if you cleanse the chapel of all vestiges of Christianity, then give back all the money—millions by then. The administration backed off. It seems the institution’s interpretation of First Amendment freedoms did not override its devotion to its bank account.

The First Amendment does not guarantee equality of religion. It prohibits the making of any law respecting the establishment of religion or its free exercise. Somehow this has been politically corrected to imply equality.

The Duke Chapel is not an ecumenical place. It is a Christian chapel of intense Gothic beauty and sanctity even for us Jewish Blue Devils. I took my Hippocratic Oath there and cherish its sight every time I return. It needs no menorahs hanging from it on Hanukah. It needs not be used for calls to Muslim prayer. There are lots of other tall buildings at Duke for that.

The first step in having Islam accepted by the West is ceasing to make demands on the rest of us with regard to some new form of tolerance.

Since 9/11 we are all a little nervous. Yes, we look at those who dress and act differently than we as "other", but welcome that other to America as we all were other once and welcomed as long as it is not used as an excuse for violence or a demand for special treatment.

The current Duke administration has shown itself to be a little bit of “ready, fire, aim” with its judgments during the lacrosse scandal and more recently in a major case of research misconduct at the medical school. I think the Duke administration and Board of Trustees need to get back to teaching, research and athletics and leave the religion to those with clearer minds.

Leonard Zwelling

T'69 and MD '73


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