Several parents sued California's Byron Union School District for requiring their 7th-grade children to participate in a three-week class activity in which they not only had to study important Islamic figures and wear traditional Muslim attire, but were also required to observe the "five pillars" of the Islamic faith, adopt Muslim names, recite a portion of a Muslim prayer, and even stage their own "jihad" or "holy war." The plaintiffs' attorney, the Thomas More Law Center's Ed White, believes the school district violated the parents' and children's constitutional rights to free exercise of religion.
Earlier, White had asked a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit to overturn a previous San Francisco federal district court's ruling that the Byron Union School District did not violate the US Constitution. However, the Ninth Circuit panel of judges upheld the lower court's determination in a brief, unpublished memorandum decision.
In that ruling, however, the panel overlooked and failed to rule on the plaintiff's claims that their free exercise and parental rights had been violated. The Thomas More Law Center has asked the three-judge panel to reconsider their decision and to issue a ruling on the claims not previously addressed. The Law Center has also asked all 24 active judges on the Ninth Circuit to consider and rule on the case.
White says the Byron Union School District never informed the parents about an exercise that would be grading their children on how well they observed the tenets of Islam. In fact, he points out, "The parents were never told that there was even a way to opt their child out of such an activity."
Actually, the only way the parents found out about the school's Islamic exercise, the attorney points out, was virtually by accident. He says a Byron Union District mom was "looking through her son's book bag and asked, 'Hey, what's all this stuff?' and the kid said, 'Oh, we're doing this in school now.' So the parents objected, but it was after the class [activity] was over."
So it was after the fact that parents learned how, for three weeks in 2001, their children were told they would "become Muslims" and had worn identification tags bearing their new Muslim names along with the Star and Crescent Moon symbols of Islam. The children received materials telling them to "Remember Allah always so that you may prosper," and they made banners to hang in the classroom, inscribing them with the Basmala, a phrase from the Koran used in Muslim prayers that is translated, "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate."
Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, was disappointed by the San Francisco district court's ruling and the Ninth Circuit panel's decision to uphold it. He commented that if students had been instructed on Christianity in the same manner as they were on Islam in this case, the court would most likely have found a constitutional violation.
Ed White agrees. The parents' lawyer says the courts should not be allowing this apparent double standard on the teaching of religion in public schools. When the Byron Union School District's teachers taught the children other religions in the seventh grade," he asserts, "they didn't go into any of these activities. When they taught Buddhism or Christianity, they didn't engage in these simulations [of Islamic observances]. They didn't have to practice the faith, memorize various parts of the Bible, et cetera."
White has filed a petition for a rehearing of the case before the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Chief counsel Richard Thompson says the appellate court needs to clarify in a published opinion just how far public schools can go in teaching about religion.
- (This article courtesy of Agape Press.)