April 17, 2007
The First Amendment to the US federal constitution was written in 1789, and was ratified by the States in 1791. It states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The interpretation of the First Amendment and in particular its first clause, referred to as the "Establishment of Religion" or "Establishment" clause, has a direct bearing on how federally- funded public schools can teach religion. Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law expert from the University of California at Davis' School of Law states: "From a constitutional perspective, schools can't teach the truth or falsity of religious belief, and atheism would fall in that parameter."
Public schools can teach about religions, but can neither denigrate one religion nor promote another. When 9/11 happened, children were confronted with the spectacle of Muslim terrorism on their TV screens. Sadly, for children growing up in America, their understanding of why Islamic terrorism takes place is not likely to be explained at school. There are "problematic" verses in the Koran, advocating violence against "unbelievers". These include Sura 8:12: "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."
Sura 3:151 states: "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers!" Sura 9:25 declares: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
Sura 9:29 states: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (Jizya was a tax which non-Muslims had to pay to their Muslim overlords).
The First Amendment was originally designed to prevent the conflicts which (Christian) religion had caused in Europe. Now, it is being employed by the politically correct to present an anodyne and inaccurate portrayal of Islam in US public schools. Sura 4:34 specifically states that a husband has the right to beat his wife if she is not submissive. Problematic Suras such as this are not likely to even be mentioned in public schools, for fear of being seen to break the terms of the First Amendment by "denigrating" Islam.
Already schools in America are being taken to task by Muslim activists who perceive that their religion is not treated with enough "respect". In December 2006 Baltimore County School Board in Maryland was accused of inaccuracy in its teaching of Islam. The claim was made by Bash Pharoan, who is president of the local American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and head of Baltimore County Muslim Council.
Pharoan was complaining about resource sheets given to students in seventh and tenth grade. He has been whining for three years that the sheets do not show respect to Mohammed, founder of Islam, because they merely call him "Mohammed." "Omitting the word prophet is disrespectful", Pharoan claimed.
He also objected to the description in the resource sheets of "jihad". He accepted that the sheets refer to its meaning as "struggle" but objected to the statement: "Muhammad justified his attacks to his followers by explaining that to weaken those who opposed the spread of God's word was a virtue, and that those who fell in battle would be rewarded in heaven. Thus the idea of the jihad became the holy war of the Muslims against 'the unbelievers."
The issue of how Islam is taught in schools has become a political hot potato. In California one school, the Excelsior Elementary, took its teaching of Islam to seventh graders to extremes. School pupils were made to dress up in Islamic clothing, to memorize Koranic verses and even to fast during their lunch hour to mimic Muslim behavior during Ramadan. The Five Pillars of Islam were to be learned, pupils were encouraged to say "Allahu Ackbar" and using dice, the children played a "jihad game". The materials employed at the school stated: "From the beginning, you and your classmates will become Muslims."
The games were neither new, nor exclusive to Excelsior. In 1994 the Joseph Kerr Junior High School in Elk Grove, California displayed a banner stating "There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet" while children ran around in Islamic garb. In summer of 2002, Byron Union School District, which governs Excelsior, became subject of a lawsuit. This suit was brought by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center said of the Islamic sessions at Excelsior: "No federal court would have permitted a class where public school students were taught to 'become Catholics' for three weeks, selected a saint's name, wore identification tags that displayed their new name and a Crucifix, and engaged in Catholic religious practices. Here, however, students were subjected to Islamic religious indoctrination and propaganda and the courts turned a blind eye. The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to demonstrate that the Establishment Clause is to be applied the same to all religions and is not just a weapon to be used only against Christians."
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton
On 10 December 2003 U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton issued a 22 page ruling which claimed that Excelsior was not violating the constitution as it was not indoctrinating students into Islam. TMLC pointed out that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional in 2002.
The simulations of Islam as practiced by Excelsior Elementary School were recommended in a textbook published by Houghton Mifflin, entitled "Across the Centuries". The publishers have defended this book, claiming one major critic had not read the book. William J. Bennetta of the Textbook League has read the book, and still condemns it. "Across the Centuries" is one of several controversial text books available in US schools.
The book "Across the Centuries" was republished after it was reviewed by Susan L. Douglass, an American-born Muslim who works for the Council of Islamic Education (CIE) which was founded in 1990. She is also associated with the International Institute of Islamic Thought, whose president declared that jihad was the only way to liberate Palestine.
CIE describes Douglass as "an American-born Muslim social studies educator and author, with experience in teaching, curriculum and instructional design. She has a Master’s Degree in Arab Studies (History) from Georgetown University and a B.A. in History from the University of Rochester. Ms. Douglass is an independent consultant who has served as CIE’s principal researcher and writer, contributing to projects involving textbook review, analysis of curriculum and standards, teacher training, and development of supplementary materials."
For nearly a decade, up until 2003, Douglass taught at the Saudi-funded Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1993 the Islamic Assembly published "Answers to Common Questions to New Muslims." In this a question was posed: "Now that I am Muslim, can I keep my non-Muslim friends that I have known all my life?" The answer was given: "You should try to remain away from mixing with non-Muslims because mixing with them removes your religious zealousness and pride from your heart and may lead you to having love and compassion in your heart for them. ...it is obligatory upon a Muslim to be free of the people of infidelity and to hate them for the sake of Allah."
The agendas of those who maintain that religions are discriminated against should always be examined. Bash Pharoan, who maintains that Baltimore County School Board is not respectful of Islam, has demanded that Jewish school holidays be banned. This move was made in June 2006 after his three-year campaigns to have the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha introduced into school calendars was not accepted. He described his vindictive proposal thus: "This issue is about equality, about equity."
On June 13, 2006, the school board ruled that there would not be official Muslim holidays. The reasons were purely financial. There are very few Muslim students and teachers, and the Baltimore County School Board already allows these to stay at home on their holidays. Only when more teachers in the county were taking Muslim holidays (with substitute teachers costing $59.66 to $103.05 per day) would these holidays become universal. Bash Pharoan, unable to get his own way, then argued that there should be no religious holidays for anyone.
A similar situation arose in 2005 in Hillsborough county in Florida. Here the politicking was manipulated by Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). In October 2005, Hillsborough County School Board approved a calendar for 2006 to 2007 which had removed holidays for Yom Kippur and Good Friday. Since December 2004, Bedier had argued that Eid al-Fitr should be included as an official school holiday. On November 8, the school board took another vote, and religious holidays were reinstated, though with no Eid holiday. Bedier said: "I'm disappointed but I'm satisfied. We're back at square one. If others are getting their holidays, it gives us hope we'll get ours as well someday."
Issues of holidays are trivial compared to the material which purports to educate students about Islam. If such material is of itself biased, then the primary duty of education is undermined. In 2004, Georgetown University hosted a seminar for teachers, federally funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. The university (already a recipient of $20 million from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to "educate" the West about Islam) is one of 18 centers of learning that provide resources to educationalists.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal
Among the study materials on offer is the "Arab World Studies Notebook", which makes some bizarre claims, such as Muslims arrived in the Americas before Columbus and spread through the Caribbean and into Canada. This preposterous claim was later removed, but other contentious passages remained, including comments suggesting Jews have no claim to Israel. The book is edited by Audrey Shabbas, who has hosted more than 268 seminars for teachers in 155 cities since 1987. A joint publisher of the book is Dar al Islam, based in New Mexico. According to JTA, Susan L. Douglass is an associate of Dar al Islam's Teachers Institute.
Books which promote Islamic radicalism have made their way into school districts through donations. In 2001, the Omar Ibn Khatab Foundation made a donation of 300 Korans, entitled "The Meaning of the Holy Quran", to Los Angeles city school district. In 2002, these copies of the Koran had to be removed, as it was found that they contained anti-Semitic footnotes, such as: "The Jews in their arrogance claimed that all wisdom and all knowledge of Allah was enclosed in their hearts. Their claim was not only arrogance but blasphemy."
Susan L. Douglass
The public schools in America are partially protected from Islamist indoctrination by the First Amendment. Though imperfectly applied and interpreted, the Establishment Clause prohibits religious indoctrination from entering the classroom. Through the efforts of Susan L. Douglass and the Council of Islamic Education, a biased assessment of Islam is entering public schools via textbooks produced by mainstream publishers.
The extreme and uncompromising form of Islam known as Wahhabism is still being taught in the numerous Saudi-funded schools that exist in North America. Being independent of the US government, such establishments are not subject to the terms of the Establishment Clause. The Saudi-funded Islamic Academy in Virginia, where Susan L. Douglass formerly taught, has already produced three graduates who were jailed in 2002 on suspicion of planning a terrorist act.
Parents should make themselves aware of what their children are being taught about Islam in school. Demand to see study sheets. Demand a list of approved textbooks, and check these out in your local library. Talk to teachers, principals, or write to your local school board. If you think your child is being indoctrinated, write to your Congress representative. You have a Constitution which prevents religious indoctrination by government bodies. For this privilege you should feel fortunate.
Adrian Morgan is a British writer and artist who regularly contributes to Islam Watch, Family Security Matters, Western Resistance, Spero News and Faithfreedom.org. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. His Global Politician articles deal with issues relating to Islam and terrorism.