Ten students and their parents want to intervene in a federal lawsuit involving their Inver Grove Heights charter school and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
The students, who attend Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, say their democratic and legal rights will be violated if the school cannot offer religious accommodations, such as pork-alternative food, prayer time, a dress code and no school on Islamic holidays.
"The ACLU's position is that these accommodations are prohibited," said Erick Kaardal, a lawyer representing the students. "The school's position is that these accommodations are permissible, and my clients' position is that these accommodations are required."
Four parents filed the motion this week in U.S. District Court on behalf of their children. A federal judge is scheduled to hear the motion later this month.
If U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank rules in favor of the action, the parents and students could legally argue their case, conduct discovery and file future motions.
The new development is the latest twist since the ACLU sued the school more than a year ago.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU alleges that the public charter school, known as TiZA, is blurring the line between religion and public education by promoting Islam. The group is suing the charter, its directors, Islamic Relief USA and Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, claiming the school was using taxpayer money to support religion.
TiZA, which also has a Blaine campus, has a predominantly Muslim student body.
The parents and students say they legally sought accommodations at the school under their free-exercise rights protected by the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions, court documents for the motion stated. The parents and students are arguing that the ACLU's allegations against the school would terminate their protected interests.
"The big loss, if the plaintiffs win, are these accommodations," Kaardal said. "They're trying to close TiZA, so these Muslim students would lose these accommodations."
Court documents for the motion stated: "Basically, TiZA is being sued for the Muslim-ness of its students. The MnACLU would not have a problem with TiZA if there weren't Muslim students at TiZA because then there would not be these accommodations."
The ACLU is not asking the court to violate anyone's constitutional rights, said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the ACLU. If students and parents believe their rights are being violated at the school, Nelson said, they should address that with the school.
"Our lawsuit is about so much more than the religious accommodations that TiZA makes," Nelson said. "I'm also troubled by the suggestion that we have targeted the school because the students are Muslim. That's offensive to me. It's not true."
Abdu Tuku, of Inver Grove Heights, is a parent named in the motion.
Tuku expects the school to meet the educational and religious needs of his two children, ages 5 and 7, he stated in an affidavit. TiZA's religious accommodations for food, a school calendar with Islamic holidays off, a dress code and prayer time are important to him.
"My religion needs to be followed fully. ..." he stated. "My view is that my public school is constitutionally required to make religious accommodations for my Islamic belief. My children have rights during the school day to these required accommodations."