The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed suit Wednesday against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy and the Minnesota Department of Education, alleging a violation of the separation between church and state. TIZA was the center of a media storm last year after the Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten wrote an inflammatory commentary linking the school to Hamas and alleging religious instruction at the taxpayer-funded school.
ACLU-MN investigated the allegations and in court documents filed in U.S. District Court said the Muslim organizations from which TIZA is leasing its space are illegally benefiting from the leasing arrangement.
According to the complaint, Asad Zaman serves as executive director, trustee and principal of TIZA and is also vice president of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, the religious organization that leases space to the school.
"He is thus subject to conflicts of interest resulting from his roles on behalf of both lessors and lessees with respect to the charter school," the complaint asserts. "He has been quoted as stating that ‘Islam makes no distinction between public and private life.'"
The complaint lays out a number of other instances of entanglements between religious organizations and the school, improper prayer services, improper exposure of students to religious iconography and the posting of religious materials in public areas.
In addition, the complaint cites cases where Islamic religious traditions are alleged to be encoded in school policy. According to the complaint, the school handbook requires "girls in grades six through eight to wear a skirt or jumper with pants underneath or a ‘full-length dress (jilbaab)'" and states that female teachers must "be covered from neck to wrist and ankle." Those rules do not apply to boys or male teachers.
The suit seeks a stop to state endorsement of TIZA and a refund of state monies received by the school. It also faults the Minnesota Department of Education for lack of oversight, especially in light of media reports about possible infractions.
"The lack of government oversight is a matter of grave concern, because the Minnesota Department of Education gives over $30 million annually in rent subsidies to charter schools and due to the agency's lack of supervision, we have no way of knowing how much taxpayers are subsidizing religious organizations," Chuck Samuelson, executive director of ACLU-MN in a statement Wednesday. "However well-run and academically challenging a religious school may be, it is unconstitutional for public funds to be used for religious education."