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  District Sued over Islam Studies

Don't miss "Corruption in our children's textbooks."
Students pretend to be Muslims, pray to Allah in classroom simulations

Posted: July 2, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Diana Lynne
© 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, Jen Shroder, 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.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes echoed Shroder's complaints in a New York Post column, calling the 558-page textbook an example of "the privileging of Islam in the United States."

Pipes assailed the "covert propagation of Islam" in the textbook: "Everything Islamic is praised; every problem is swept under the rug." Pipes also complained the textbook promotes Islamic doctrines as objective fact and presents a distorted image of Muslims: "Jihad, which means 'sacred war,' turns into a struggle mainly 'to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil.'"

Houghton Mifflin denies the allegations. In a release posted on its website, the publisher stated, "Houghton Mifflin has always taken a neutral, fact-based approach to writing all of its educational publications, striving for a fair account of history."

In the company release, Director of Media Relations Collin Earnst explained that a "multi-cultural and multi-faith panel of scholars reviewed and approved 'Across the Centuries' before publication" and that the text is part of a two-book series developed for the state of California that covers specific topics mandated and outlined by the state board of education. As per California state standards, "the dawn of the major Western and non-Western ancient civilizations, including the origins of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity" are dealt with in the text used in grade six.

Prompted by this argument, Shroder delved into the sixth-grade companion textbook, "A Message of Ancient Days," and found it to be a "blatant misrepresentation of Christianity" and "Jesus presented as Islam believes." In contrast to the imagination exercises of the Islam section where students pretend to be Muslim soldiers, Shroder says the only imagination exercises for the Christianity and Judaism sections is for students to imagine they are "with the Jews when they were conquered and forced to live away from their homeland" and to "imagine being in the buried catacombs of the dead Christians."

In support of Pipes' claims of the seventh-grade textbook promoting Islamic doctrines as objective fact, Shroder found 998 references to Muhammad as prophet with only nine being accompanied by qualifiers such as "Muslims believe." In contrast, in the sixth-grade text Shroder counted 116 references to Jesus as savior with 10 being accompanied by the qualifier, "Christians believe."

"Over and over again Christianity is reduced to 'ideas' whereas Islam is referred to as 'More than a Way of Life,'" said Shroder.

Shroder also contacted the multi-cultural, multi-faith organizations Houghton Mifflin cited as having reviewed and approved the textbooks prior to publishing. These included the Council on Islamic Education, the Hadassah Academic Advisory Board, the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, and the Christian Educators Association International. According to statements posted on Shroder's website, Christian Educators Association maintains it only reviewed the Christian sections and the Hadassah Academic Advisory Board likewise states it only reviewed the portions pertaining to Judaism. Both groups indicated to Shroder they made recommendations for changes which were not implemented by Houghton Mifflin.

According to a Thomas More press release about the lawsuit, "Houghton Mifflin and the publishers of the simulation materials acknowledge they were influenced by various Muslim organizations."

"We must guard what is planted in our hearts and in our sons' hearts," Shroder told WND. "California has been planting some big seeds for Islam while hardening hearts toward Christianity through the Houghton Mifflin textbooks. ... John Walker Lindh is the fruit of California's efforts. He was a young impressionable child, just as my son is. How many more John Walkers before we stop promoting Islam in public schools?"


Related WND stories:

Publisher responds to book criticism

Islam studies spark hate mail, lawsuits

Islam studies required in California district

Related offer:

"Triumph of Disorder" explains collision course between the Muslim world and the Judeo-Christian West.