The University of Hamburg has become Germany’s first institute of higher education to set forth guidelines for religious practice on campus. A 10-member interdisciplinary commission drafted the guidelines.
The University of Hamburg has become Germany’s first higher education institute to write a code of conduct that defines how students can live their religions on campus. The “Code of Conduct for Religious Expression at Universität Hamburg” will “govern the respectful and peaceful coexistence of different religious beliefs,” Dieter Lenzen, the university’s president, said while presenting the 10-point paper last week.
Lenzen said an accumulation of incidents had led the university to draft the code. A preacher had publicly called for prayers in the corridors of the university. Male Muslims reportedly pressured some women to wear headscarves. A young man often prayed very loudly and called to Jesus Christ for help.
The president said he had no longer had the time to resolve the growing number of religion-related issues for which the university had no set policies. He set up a 10-member interdisciplinary commission led by the philosophy professor Birgit Recki to draft the guidelines, which state, for example, that religious holidays may only be celebrated in the Room of Contemplation, which the university opened in 2006. The code also clearly states that students can wear head coverings and religious symbols such as crosses or the Star of David.
‘Simply no basis’
The code states that “wearing religiously motivated clothing in the classroom is not itself disruptive” and permits all forms of dress that do not “impede communication required for academic exchange, instruction or exams (establishing identity).”
German media quickly picked up on the university’s perceived tolerance for women to choose their own religious wardrobes. “Do you really want burqas at the university, Mr. President?” Germany’s leading newspaper by circulation, Bild, asked in a headline, rhetorically addressing Lenzen. He told DW that the article is nonsense and that there is “simply no basis for a ban” on religious garments at the university.
The code is more concerned with practical matters, such as permitting only the expressions of faith that are not considered intrusive by nonparticipants. “This applies, for example, to ritual foot baths in sanitary facilities,” the code declares. “Such acts are prohibited. This also applies, for example, to the speaking aloud of prayers in university rooms or on the campus.” The commission also clearly rejected demands to modify the university’s curriculum in order to meet certain religious requirements.