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Hamline Professor Fired After Displaying Prophet Muhammad Image

Erika Lopez Prater taught global art history as an adjunct professor at Hamline University. Aware that many Muslims hold deep religious beliefs that do not allow for the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, she tried to take steps to address those concerns. In her class syllabus, she cautioned students that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammad and the Buddha, would be shown in her course. No students indicated any concerns in response. On the day she intended to show the picture, she notified the students, giving them the opportunity to leave. Prater then showed the image. A student in the class complained to Hamline's administration that they perceived it as an attack on their religion. Other Muslim students around the campus supported the student. In response, the University declined to have Prater teach the next semester. Emails to students and faculty reflect the administration took the position that respect for Muslim students "should have superseded academic freedom." The University also referred to Prater’s actions as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful, and Islamaphobic.”

This incident has gained national attention as others claim it violates free speech rights. One Islamic art historian defended Prater through a published essay and initiated a petition to have the University's board investigate. PEN America referred to it as "one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory." According to the New York Times, the painting is regularly shown in art history classes and is one of the “earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world.” The two other professors interviewed by the Times (from the University of Michigan and Duke) indicated their support of Prater's decision to show the image. A religious studies professor at Hamline told the administration that the Islamic community is divided on the issue of showing the image. The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement expressing that it sees no evidence that Prater "acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia."

The New York Times requested interviews with University officials. While all declined, the school’s president said, “To look upon an image of the Prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith. It was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported and respected both in and out of our classrooms.”