OREM Utah Valley University is getting some religion.
Final plans to build a prayer lounge on campus are up for approval in September.
"Religion is just like politics and opinions: Everyone's got one," said Linda P. Walton, UVU's interfaith chaplain. "If students want to talk to God, they ought to have that opportunity."
Walton said she approached the university about constructing a prayer lounge after she learned that a number of Muslim students, in search of privacy, were making trips to the parking lot multiple times a day to complete prayer rituals.
"They had no place to pray," she said. "I thought that was really inappropriate."
Right now, the prayer lounge's proposed site a corner of the Digital Learning Center's fifth floor is partitioned off by a row of plastic plants. When it is completed, a low wall will separate the lounge from the rest of the library.
"We'll probably add some more plants, small fountains or mood lamps," said Jack Christianson, executive director of UVU's Center for Engaged Learning. "There won't be anything there that would favor one religious belief over another. It'll just be a quiet place."
UVU wouldn't be the first Utah institution to set aside government-owned ground for religious worship.
The University of Utah opened an interfaith chapel on its campus seven years ago. Since then, U. spokeswoman Coralie Alder said the school has had no complaints about any one religion dominating use of the building.
"It really is a wonderful venue to have on campus," she said.
The prayer lounge at the Salt Lake City International Airport wasn't as peaceful, however. The airport recently closed down its prayer room because people were consistently bullying those with other religious beliefs.
Christianson, who heads the prayer lounge committee, said UVU has taken care to make sure the lounge won't violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. While Utah State Code does prohibit public schools and school officials from sponsoring prayer or religious devotionals, there is no law barring students from praying on campus.
"Even if people don't have a religion, the lounge is still a place where they can come for quiet meditation," Christianson said. "If they want to pray, fine. If they don't want to, that's fine, too."
Students won't be allowed to proselyte or leave religious reading material in the lounge, he said. They also must abide by library rules, which include staying quiet.
Even so, some UVU students still worried that the lounge won't be free from religious pressures.
"This is not a private school," said Shinah Oakley, an 18-year-old sophomore from Spanish Fork. "If you want to get religious, go to a religious place."
Student concerns centered on the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which already owns a building at the center of campus.
"I don't want people preaching to me," said Bryn Kindschy, a 19-year-old freshman from Wisconsin. "People around here tend to get preachy and I'm already LDS."
As long as prayer is not forced, however, other UVU students were open-minded about adding a religious sanctuary to campus.
"I view it as a place of meditation," said Torben Berhard, a 25-year-old integrated studies major from Michigan. "There's no need to call it a prayer room because the invitation to meditate is extended to everyone, Christians and atheists alike."
Curtis Jensen, who led UVU's interfaith student club last year, said he believes having a prayer lounge on campus will make it easier for students to network with others who have similar beliefs and meet people of other faiths."There's nowhere for Catholics to connect with Catholics and Jews to connect with Jews," he said. "My biggest hope for the sanctuary is that it will help religious denominations besides The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find a presence on campus."
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