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ASU student organization fights for on-campus interfaith prayer and meditation center

Danforth Chapel
Danforth Chapel pictured on the Tempe campus between the Memorial Union and Hayden Library on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, which is meant to act as a non-denominational space open to students of all beliefs.

With over 83,000 students and the status as the largest American university, ASU hosts a variety of religious beliefs. However, as religious studies senior Johnny Martin found out, not all of those beliefs are completely welcome on campus.

Sun Devils Are Better Together, an interfaith group on campus, decided that something should be done after its president, Johnny Martin, was turned away from a chapel on campus.

SunDABT, which focuses on inclusiveness in religion on and off campus, works on a variety of projects that focus on human rights and activism.

When Martin, a practicing Muslim, said he needed to go in for his midday prayer. The chapel was adorned with a banner reading “24-hour Prayer House,” so he said he thought it would be the perfect place to go.

When he walked in with his prayer rug and asked if it was okay for him to pray there, Martin said the woman greeting at the door asked if he was there to pray to Jesus.

“And I said, ‘Well I’m a Muslim, I’m here to pray to God,’" said Martin. "And she said, ‘Well, you see, the thing is, this space is for Christian prayer only.’”

Shocked by the treatment Martin received, members of SunDABT said they decided that action needed to be taken to implement a true interfaith prayer and meditation center where anyone can practice any belief at any time.

According to a statement released by ASU, Danforth Chapel is a space for students of any religion to practice their faith.

"ASU is home to students of all faiths, traditions and beliefs and students are encouraged to actively pursue their spiritual path within an open, inclusive and supportive community," the statement said. "Danforth Meditation Chapel is a non-denominational space that may be used for individual or group prayer or meditation, regardless of faith."

Despite their platform, Martin was denied access to the prayer space. However, he said he's not up-in-arms about it.

“I have no hard feelings, and I don’t think there is anyone to blame," Martin said. "The feeling I have after that experience is motivational discontent. ASU has an obligation to create a solution because there is a significant population of students whose spiritual needs and religious obligations are not being accommodated.”

The group is petitioning the ASU administration, trying to persuade it to look into the issue and perhaps find a larger, more accommodating area for students to pray.

“I know plenty of other institutions across the country that have a dedicated, fully-inclusive interfaith prayer and meditation space,” Martin said. “Why would the largest college in the country, that envisions itself as a model for other public institutions, not have that?”

There isn't a set amount of signatures needed on the petition, but they said the more support it gets, the more likely the administration is to take action. The petition currently has 210 signatures, and members of SunDABT said they hope to see that number increase over the next few weeks.

“I don’t know the details of where they would have it or how they would set it up,” said SunDABT member Tim Sharp, “but I think it’s a great idea.”

Below SunDABT President Martin discusses platforms of the organization:

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Related Links:

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ASU students speak out against discrimination in Mesa

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