Islamic indoctrination in our public schools is a concern to parents across America. Parents are questioning local school districts’ choice of curriculum and teaching methods regarding this issue and with good cause.
When public middle school students are required to recite Muslim prayers and statements of belief, to write those statements as though they are fact, and to memorize historically inaccurate information about the background of the Islamic religion, someone must cry foul. While education about religions is certainly an appropriate curricular topic, it is imperative that public schools take the necessary precautions to avoid instruction that constitutes indoctrination in the tenets of a particular faith. Based on reports that these activities have been occurring with regularity in schools throughout Tennessee, in September we issued a request, pursuant to the Tennessee Open Records Act, seeking from each Tennessee school district copies of relevant documents that could help explain what was actually happening and identify the factors (and/or individuals) responsible for introducing this type of religious indoctrination into the public school curriculum.
Our goal was simple: expose the problem, get to the root, and force swift action to resolve it moving forward. Thankfully, even though many school districts have attempted to delay and deflect the truth, growing concern by the public has led to swift action by the state to review and revise questionable curriculum.
Our initial request sought documentation regarding the specific educational activities occurring in the context of the world religions portion of the state-mandated social studies curriculum, as well as records demonstrating the sources utilized in establishing the curriculum and identifying the individuals who determined the specifics of that curriculum. It came as no surprise that most school districts were not eager to turn over that information, and delayed responses ensued.
The Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel states that, “any record that is responsive to the request and is not confidential is required to be made accessible to the requestor.” Many of the 146 Tennessee school districts have not responded promptly to our requests, and now a number of districts have indicated that it will take up to 60 days to provide responsive records.
However, within days of launching our aggressive advocacy campaign and pursuing records requests, the Chairman of the State Board of Education for Tennessee made an important announcement: due to public concerns expressed about the seventh grade world history curriculum, specifically discussions of Islam in that context, the Board decided to depart from its regular timetable for review of the social studies standards (originally scheduled for 2018) and will review those standards two years earlier beginning in January 2016. That expedited review represents an important victory in our ongoing effort to ensure that religious indoctrination is not taking place in the public school curriculum.
We at the ACLJ understand the value of the limited resources available to our public schools and therefore determined that because a large portion of the records responsive to our request would not be provided until essentially the same time that the Board of Education undertakes its standards review, those records may ultimately be of little meaning following any changes adopted by the Board. Consequently, we have informed the school districts of our intention to suspend the request so as to avoid any unnecessary expenditure of resources on their part.
Here’s the bottom line: we will be monitoring the planned changes at the state level and working with state officials to ensure that public school standards regarding world religions are factual, non-biased, non-indoctrinating, and in compliance with students’ rights as protected by the First Amendment.
We will also continue to monitor the implementation of those standards at the district level and stand ready to renew our Open Records request at an appropriate time in the future should it be necessary.
In the meantime, in order to ensure protection of students’ and parents’ fundamental constitutional rights, we have provided the school districts with crucial guidelines, including those published by the United States Department of Education, for complying with the requirements of the First Amendment in the curricular context.
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