PJ Media

Kansas ACLU Taking No Action on School Islam Display

Two weeks ago, students at the Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas, were greeted in the hall by this bulletin board display:

The display was later removed by the school after a brief media reaction. The school released a statement, excerpted below:

Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet teaches the five major religions of the world — Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam — as part of the curriculum. The students study civilizations throughout time, throughout the world. Religion is an important component of the history of civilizations. The students study religion with a focus on the history and geography in the development of civilizations. The school does not promote or proselytize any religion. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are all taught in a historical context of their study of the world to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history. There is also a painting of the Last Supper hanging in the school. The teachers are mindful of the sensitivity over religion. The students at Minneha have received these lessons for years.

A photo taken of a bulletin board without context is misleading and some have taken it out of context without having all the information. Because of the misunderstanding that has been promoted by that one photograph, the bulletin board has been taken down.

Students and staff have the right to engage in private prayer or religious activities in school as long as it’s not disruptive.

Minneha is a Core Knowledge magnet school. As a school of choice, more than 60% of Minneha’s students apply for admission to the school in order to receive the core knowledge education that is the foundation of the school. As part of the core knowledge curriculum, which is overseen by a national foundation devoted to core knowledge education, there is study on civilizations throughout time, and throughout the world.

PJ Media contacted Doug Bonney, legal director of the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has frequently taken action regarding similar displays regarding Christianity. Bonney said he was only peripherally aware of the issue as he is “not a blog reader,” but that he had received a brief phone call on it:

Nobody ever filed a formal complaint. I haven’t investigated, and since [the display is] down I probably won’t bother. I don’t know enough about it to know if it was objectionable or not.

However, Bonney said that the display was likely not objectionable to him, judging from the information he had:

There’s something of a fine line between teaching about religion and proselytizing. Proselytizing is, of course, prohibited.

He said a temporary display is different than a permanent display, and noted that in an educational context the display was probably acceptable. For comparison, Bonney noted that the Ten Commandments display at the University of Kansas Law School is legal because it is in context with several other displays of historical law, such as one depicting Hammurabi.

Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council took exception to Bonney’s assertions:

[Bonney’s response] is fascinating, because the ACLU routinely takes great exception to posting the Ten Commandments. They have always vehemently opposed the Ten Commandments. This is a great example of the double standard on the left.

Klukowski said the ACLU has argued that the very presence of a display of the Ten Commandments is a violation of the Establishment Clause, and that the ACLU rarely makes accusations of proselytizing.

Klukowski said the federal test currently used to determine if a display violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, known as the “endorsement test,” was “made up out of thin air” in 1984 by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In a 5-4 decision, the court declared that if a “reasonable person” would believe government was endorsing religion, then a display is unconstitutional. The problem, per Klukowski, is that the judge gets to decide what constitutes “a reasonable person.” There is no standard other than judicial whim:

It’s been an unmitigated train wreck ever since.

Klukowski said that the true test, as understood by the Framers, was the “coercion test”: is the government declaring an official state religion and forcing others to follow it? An “established church” in historical context is exactly that — an official state church.

KansasWatchDog.org reported that parents were upset:

A concerned parent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal against herself or her child, said if students are going to be taught about Islam, they should also be made aware of what she views as violent ideology.

“If you’re not going to include all the facts, then there’s now a bias,” said the parent, who is Jewish.

Kansas State Rep. Dennis Hedke (R-Wichita) told KansasWatchDog he was “appalled”:

He said the way the school teaches about Islam glosses over some of the more unsavory aspects of the religion, such as Jihad and the annihilation of Israel.

“If you’re going to talk about Islam and make it sound like it’s another one of those religions that needs to be understood and contemplated by mankind, there’s a serious misunderstanding,” Hedke said.