A Clash Over Teaching Islam to 7th Graders in Tennessee
State lawmakers, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and parents of Tennessee schoolkids are worried about the way children are learning about “the world of Islam” in a social studies course being taught in the state’s middle schools.
But dozens of Tennessee public school districts are using a form letter supplied by an attorney to resist efforts to tell parents and lawmakers everything they want to know about the course.
Among other things that bother parents, the kids are required to memorize the five pillars of Islam and are instructed to write “Allah is the only God,” according to WSMV-TV in Franklin, Tenn. One parent said more than 20 pages of her child’s social studies textbook is devoted to studying Islam.
That amounts to three weeks of classroom instruction, more time than is spent teaching the seventh-graders about Christianity.
“In all of the homework my children have ever brought home, I have never seen the level of detail about other religions,” said Laura Jones. “I was completely speechless.”
Congresswoman Blackburn is on the side of Jones and other outraged parents in this debate.
“There is a big difference between education and indoctrination,” Blackburn said in a statement released by her office.
"It is reprehensible that our school system has exhibited this double-standard, more concerned with teaching the practices of Islam than the history of Christianity. Tennessee parents have a right to be outraged and I stand by them in this fight.”
State Rep. Andy Holt is one of several Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature calling for an immediate review of how and why so much time is being spent on Islam in seventh-grade social studies.
“Tennesseans have seen the radical side of Islam, and many have grown skeptical of this ‘peaceful religion,’” Holt wrote on his blog.
“This ‘teaching’ also occurs while Tennessee students are simultaneously being told they cannot fly American flags and are being discouraged from praying while at school,” Holt complained. “Many of our children are not being taught the Ten Commandments in school, but instead the Five Pillars of Islam and the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad as a sovereign to Jesus Christ.”
But, Paul Galloway, the executive director of the American Center for Outreach, told USA Today that Blackburn and the parents of these middle-school kids being taught about Islam don’t understand that simply repeating the tenets of the Islamic religion won’t turn anyone into a Muslim.
He also said the word “Allah” in Arabic means “God.”
“So, Christians who speak Arabic use the word Allah to talk about God all the time,” Galloway explained. “There is a basic level of misunderstanding driving this fear and outrage.”
Perhaps. But this won’t help middle-school parents learn more about what is happening in the seventh-grade classrooms, or feel any better about their kids standing and reciting “Allah is God” every day.
The American Center for Law & Justice sent out open-records requests to all 146 public school districts in Tennessee to find out more about how seventh-graders are being taught about Islam.
CeCe Heil, an attorney with the ACLJ, said the law firm that routinely handles cases supporting conservative and Christian principles is only involved because so many parents have expressed concerns, to put it mildly.
Parents from at least three counties in Tennessee have contacted the ACLJ for help, according to Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the group.
But 80 of the districts, which do operate at the behest of taxpayers, are using a form letter supplied by another legal firm to block the requests for information.
And, Sekulow pointed out, this is not just an isolated problem in three counties of Tennessee.
“Earlier this year, we reported that public school students in Madison, Wisconsin were given an assignment to ‘pretend you are Muslim,’ while public school students in Florida were instructed to recite the Five Pillars of Islam as a prayer, make Islamic prayer rugs, and perform other Muslim rituals,” Sekulow wrote on the ACLJ blog. “Suspiciously, the textbook discussing Islam had chapters missing. Which chapters? Those on Christianity and Judaism.”
“To put this in perspective, imagine the outcry from the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), and other leftist and angry atheist organizations if a study guide stated, ‘Jesus is the Son of God,’ and forced children to recite the Lord’s Prayer,” he added.
“These organizations would be beside themselves claiming indoctrination of our public school students. But where are these organizations now?”
Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has supported the 20 pages of middle-school Islam curriculum.
But she has also agreed to review the program.
"In light of recent concerns from educators and stakeholders,” McQueen told the Tennessean, “the department has asked the State Board of Education to move the social studies standards review process up ahead of the traditional six-year cycle."