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District Sued over Islam Studies
Students pretend to be Muslims, pray to Allah in classroom simulations
Posted: July 2, 2002
While the whole country debates a controversial court ruling declaring "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal lawsuit filed in another California court last week seeks to stop a public school from having its seventh-graders pray to Allah.
On behalf of parents and four children, the Thomas More Law Center filed suit against the Byron Union School District and various school officials to stop the use of the "Islam simulation" materials used in the Excelsior Elementary School in Byron, Calif.
As WorldNetDaily reported in January, the public school students at Excelsior pretend to be Muslims, wear robes, simulate jihads via a dice game, learn the Five Pillars of Faith and memorize verses from the Koran in classroom exercises as part of a World History and Geography class that's being taught to seventh-graders all over the state. The class is included in the state's curriculum standards required by the state board of education. These standards outline what subjects should be taught and will be included in state assessment tests, but don't mandate how they're to be taught.
The Islam simulations at Excelsior are outlined in the state-adopted textbook "Across the Centuries," published by Houghton Mifflin, which prompts students to imagine they are Islamic soldiers and Muslims on a Mecca pilgrimage. The lawsuit also alleges students were encouraged to use such phrases in their speech as "Allah Akbar," which is Arabic for "God is great," and were required to fast during lunch period to simulate fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"While public schools prohibit Christian students from reading the Bible, praying, displaying the Ten Commandments, and even mentioning the word 'God,' students in California are being indoctrinated into the religion of Islam," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the national, public-interest law firm. "Public schools would never tolerate teaching Christianity in this way. Just imagine the ACLU’s outcry if students were told that they had to pray the Lord's Prayer, memorize the Ten Commandments, use such phrases as 'Jesus is the Messiah,' and fast during Lent," he added.
According to Thompson, "Although it is constitutional for public schools to have an instructional program about comparative religion or teach about religion and utilize religious books such as the Bible in courses about our history and culture, the Byron Union School District crossed way over the constitutional line when it coerced impressionable 12-year-olds to engage in particular religious rituals and worship, simulated or not."
Defending the course instruction in January, Byron Superintendent Peggy Green explained, "Dressing up in costume, role-playing and simulation games are all used to stimulate class discussion and are common teaching practices used in other subjects as well."
Excelsior Principal Nancie Castro maintained, "At no point do we teach or endorse religion; we teach about religions' impact from a historical context. ... This is the state-approved curriculum, using state-adopted textbooks and has been part of the instructional program in California for over a decade."
When contacted by WND, a Byron district spokesperson said officials knew nothing about the lawsuit and could not comment on it without seeing it. The attorneys representing the school district are on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.
While the international public-interest law firm The American Center for Law and Justice presses Excelsior to permit students to opt out of the course, contending it violates students' First Amendment rights, the Thomas More suit and one being prepared by the Pacific Justice Institute take issue with the course materials, including the textbook, which is used in public schools throughout the state and in districts across the country.
The Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense organization, mounted its challenge to the textbook earlier this year on behalf of concerned San Luis Obispo parent, JenT, who noticed her son's textbook "had a distinct bias toward Islam over Christianity." Shroder subsequently launched a campaign to raise awareness, posting a content analysis of the textbook on her website.
"There's so much in that textbook that I find offensive – both the Islam and the Christian sections," Shroder told WND. While presenting a "white-washed version of Islam," Shroder asserts the textbook goes out of its way to depict Christianity in a negative light.
"In the textbook, there is a large three-column block titled 'Understanding Religious Persecution,' which blames Christians exclusively for persecuting others and forcing beliefs, when in fact there have been more Christian martyrs than any other religion," said Shroder.
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