A federal judge said this week that witness intimidation by any party will not be tolerated in a lawsuit involving a charter school accused of illegally promoting Islam.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota is suing Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) for allegedly crossing the line between religion and public education, a claim school officials have denied.
The ACLU argued that administrators at the Inver Grove Heights school have intimidated potential witnesses or tried to dissuade them from testifying about TiZA, and asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham to issue an order protecting them.
In an order filed Wednesday, the judge stopped short of granting all of the ACLU's requests, but she said no one should harass or tamper with witnesses. In addition, two prospective witnesses, Khalid Elmasry and Janeha Edwards, may request that only attorneys attend their depositions.
Graham also ordered the ACLU to provide a list of witnesses to opposing counsel.
The school and its lawyers take the ACLU's allegations seriously but do not believe they have intimidated any witnesses, said Shamus O'Meara, lead defense counsel for TiZA.
In a written declaration, Elmasry said he was thinking twice about serving as a voluntary witness because of what he called attempts to discredit and intimidate him. The father of a former TiZA student, Elmasry said he also used to be a board member of Minnesota Education Trust, a group connected to the school.
Last month, Elmasry spoke before a state Senate subcommittee investigating the use of lease aid for charter schools. In testimony, he slammed TiZA's directors for being dictatorial and unresponsive to the concerns of parents and teachers.
Elmasry said he learned afterward that school director Asad Zaman made what he called personal attacks against him to a group of TiZA parents. Zaman denied that, saying that Elmasry is the one making "outrageous allegations."
Edwards, a former administrative assistant at the school, also said in writing she feared harassment for talking to the ACLU. Zaman also disputed her statement.