The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday against the publicly funded Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy charter school of Inver Grove Heights and Blaine for alleged promotion of Islam and illegal leasing of religious space. The ACLU charges the school of 430 predominantly Muslim students with infractions against the First Amendment's establishment of religion clause, citing improper prayer activities, dress code and after school religious programming which the school allegedly pushes on students by delayed busing.
While the ACLU rightly derides TIZA for an incriminating money trail and alleged conflicts of interest, they unnecessarily oversimplify the separation of church and state to the detriment of diversity. The lawsuit comes as Minnesota legislators discuss a substantial overhaul of its first-in-the-nation charter school legislation, passed in 1991 to increase school choice and quality . Though some charter schools are failing to live up to their promises, lawmakers should reflect on the unique opportunities charter schools have come to provide some Minnesota families, particularly immigrant parents who disapprove of American youth culture and their children who often find traditional public schools alienating and uninspiring.
Civil libertarians should be especially careful to avoid conjuring an anti-religious cudgel of the First Amendment, and those paranoid about American theocracy best learn to prioritize threats. Not only do federal guidelines allow for prayer in school, it is doubtful that families whose children attend TIZA find its policies obtrusive. Quite the contrary: Though critics assert that TIZA should simply go private, families who desire culturally relevant education for their children may not be able to afford such a change. If we truly value diversity, legislators, courts and advocacy groups should think twice before they hand an assimilationist edict to immigrant families stunting the development of alternative education models.