Building managers and legislative staffers have sought to reassure some concerned Tennessee lawmakers that recent renovations at the state Capitol did not install special facilities for Muslims to wash their feet before praying.
"I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men's restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use," Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley wrote in an email. "It is, in layman's terms, a mop sink."
The nearly $16 million renovation completed in December focused on upgrading electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in the more than 150-year-old Capitol. Parts of the building also got new carpets, paint and security upgrades.
Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey said he had been approached by a House and Senate member to inquire about the sink, which replaced a utility sink that had been mounted higher on the wall and was used for filling and emptying buckets.
"There was concern about why it had been modified," said Humphrey, who declined to identify the lawmakers or elaborate on their concerns.
"I certainly wouldn't want to quote a member inaccurately about what they may or may not have said," he said.
Republican Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, confirmed that he had spoken to Humphrey about whether there were religious reasons for the new sink after the issue was raised by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma.
"I just asked the question about what was the intent of that," Ketron said. "And it satisfied my curiosity after it was presented to me."
Matheny denied that he was involved in raising questions about the basin.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he told The Associated Press last week. "It's not ringing a bell."
While details of the practice vary by sect, Muslims are required to wash their faces, hands and feet before praying as an act of ablution, or ritual purification. Forms of ablution are practiced in almost all major faiths.
The ritual washing of others' feet is practiced by some Christians as a sign of humility and emulating Jesus Christ, who was said to have washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper.
Matheny and Ketron were the main sponsors of a 2011 bill that sought to make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah law.
Hundreds of Muslims came to the Legislature to express fears the measure would outlaw central tenets of Islam, such as praying five times a day toward Mecca, abstaining from alcohol or fasting for Ramadan.
A heavily watered-down law ultimately enacted by the Legislature bore little resemblance to the original proposal and references to any specific religion were removed.