Construction is about to begin on the Mainland Common Centre, a public swimming facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia — but not everyone is pleased with the design. "There will be lots of glass to help promote the aquatics center as a vibrant and active space," the architect explained, "and this is obviously the opposite of the Muslim women's requirements." Some have objected to these windows, citing the need to protect their religiously mandated modesty.
Muslim women rent the current building for an hour-long private session each week, during which time a female lifeguard is on duty and the glass is covered with paper or bags. However, this will become impractical once the new center debuts with its huge windows:
A proposed solution — the use of large, mechanized blinds — won't be cheap, said municipal councilors who represent the area. "To cover the pool windows with this type of automatic blind will be costly, probably in the thousands of dollars," Coun. Mary Wile [Clayton Park West] said via email.
"I have asked for an estimate and [I'm] hoping we will be able to get a sponsor who will consider providing funds for these blinds, in lieu of an acknowledgment of their contribution."
Let us evaluate this case in terms of the guidelines for accommodating Muslim needs. Unlike earlier examples in which recreational facilities infringed upon the rights of others and thus crossed the line — such as Harvard designating women-only access times at a popular gym and an English leisure center stipulating that participants in gender-segregated swimming sessions wear Islamic-style aquatic gear — the current arrangement for the Halifax women is reasonable and hurts no one. They rent out the pool for a private hour, just as other groups presumably can do. Also, their makeshift window-covering procedure does not appear onerous.
The request that the new center be modified with an eye toward Islamic standards of modesty goes farther. While the municipality would incur a non-negligible burden in implementing the Muslim-backed plan, it may choose to proceed as long as absolutely no taxpayer money is used to finance the installation and upkeep of the window blockers. Amenities for specific religions can exist on public property if private funds are employed, an example being the recently constructed Jewish chapel at the United States Naval Academy.
Of course, that Halifax officials may accede to Muslim wishes does not imply that they should. Local officials might be less enthusiastic about accommodating the women if they consider the precedent set by this concession — and what the next round of demands could be.