Judge rules Islamic education
OK in California classrooms

By WND Staff

Requiring seventh-grade students to pretend they’re Muslims, wear Islamic garb, memorize verses from the Quran, pray to Allah and even to play “jihad games” in California public schools has been legally upheld by a federal judge, who has dismissed a highly publicized lawsuit brought by several Christian students and their parents.

As WND reported in July of last year, the suit was filed by the Thomas More Law Center against the Byron Union School District and various school officials to stop the use of the “Islam simulation” materials and methods used in the Excelsior Elementary School in Byron, Calif.

In her 22-page ruling announced Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said Excelsior is not indoctrinating students about Islam when it requires them to adopt Muslim names and pray to Allah as part of a history and geography class, but rather is just teaching them about the Muslim religion.

When WorldNetDaily first reported the story in January 2002 – shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks committed by 19 Islamist terrorists – major controversy ensued nationwide.

The World History and Geography class in question is part of a curriculum being taught to seventh-graders all over the state, and is included in the state’s curriculum standards required by the state board of education. Although the standards outline what subjects should be taught and will be included in state assessment tests, they don’t mandate how they’re to be taught.

In the three-week course, Excelsior teacher Brooke Carlin had students assume Islamic names, recite prayers in class, memorize and recite verses from the Quran, and had them simulate Ramadan fasting by going without something for a day. The final test required students to critique Muslim culture.

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.

Nevertheless, the judge ruled the program was devoid of “any devotional or religious intent,” and as therefore educational, not religious in nature.

‘Double standard’ decried

However, Richard Thompson, chief counsel for Thomas More, points to what he calls an obvious double standard.

“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,” he told WND on filing the lawsuit. “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.”

However, Byron Superintendent Peggy Green defended the program: “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.”

And 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.”

Appealing to the 9th Circuit?

Yesterday, Thompson told WND that his legal team believed from the start that, regardless of who won the first round, this case would go to appeal – and that is exactly where he wants it to go.

With some irony, Thompson points out that the appeal would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This is the court that said, in the ‘Under God’ Pledge case, that the mere expression ‘One nation under God’ [recited in a public school] violates the Constitution,” said Thompson. “It will be very interesting to see how they deal with this Byron School District case where students are basically required to become Muslims for three weeks!”

While the Thomas More Law Center is intent on appealing the case, it is awaiting word from the plaintiffs as to their intent.

Related stories:

District sued over Islam studies

Publisher responds to book criticism

Islam studies spark hate mail, lawsuits

Islam studies required in California district