"It appears the school may be impermissibly blurring the line between providing a secular education and endorsing and promoting religion and religious activities," Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the Minnesota ACLU, said.
This time it is an Islamic madrassa, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, funded at public expense as a charter school in the Minneapolis area.
The first clue to Samuelson that something was amiss at Tarek ibn Ziyad: it is located at a mosque where the Imam's call to Islamic prayer is sounded five times a day.
Samuelson assured PRB News the apparent violations equal to a serious case among the more-than 1,000 inquiry requests the Minnesota ACLU receives yearly – he characterized it a "serious complaint."
"We are investigating three for sure – what I would call smoking," Samuelson said. "Where there is smoke there is usually fire."
Two other smoking cases are Christian church-sponsored charter schools Samuelson said are in probable violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment "Establishment Clause."
Samuelson said the ACLU will follow its usual steps: obtain documents from the state's education department and other appropriate governmental bodies, conduct interviews and visits.
"This is what we do," he said. "I would guess this case is going to be rather complicated – because, just because." He did not elaborate further, except to state the ACLU has not had many Islamic-oriented matters.
ACLU cases include free speech, voting rights, racial profiling and other complaints along with school-based problems that include religious establishment issues.
Out of nearly 1,500 complaints total each year, the Minnesota ACLU investigates few more than 100, with about 90 resulting in ACLU responses: they indicate a civil liberties "problem."
"There would be included among those problems, some Establishment Clause violations…maybe 10-15 result in further legal action, cased that we have to file," Samuelson added.
"Often, the problem is handled through negotiation, some are simple to negotiate – others are more complex."
At Tarek ibn Ziyad, problems include centralized carpeted areas designated for Islamic prayer, suggesting "the school is involved in promoting daily prayer activities," Samuelson said.
Also, the charter school facilitates and promotes religious studies under a thin veneer of scheduling them after regular school hours.
"Religious studies [are] conducted under the auspices of the mosque that is housed in the same building as the school," Samuelson said.
That is one large complication. "Negotiations can result in an inappropriate activity being moved, for example a 'Ten Commandments' monument can move to private property," Samuelson said.
"Moving all school activities from the mosque structure could be a much larger challenge."
The prayer activities are organized by school officials, which, though voluntary, are under the overall auspices of the public funding of Islamic prayer activities.
"We are troubled by these reports," Samuelson said in a letter to Tarek ibn Ziyad Principal Asad Zaman.
"We are concerned that Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy has crossed the line and is doing more than simply accommodating students in their religion," he added.
"A governmental practice that exhibits a preference of one religion over another or that sends a message of religious endorsement to students is a violation of the wall between church and state put forth by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Samuelson said complaints about charter schools have spiked in the five years after Minnesota approved a change to the rules governing the sponsorship of new schools.
In the past, only public school departments or school board entities could sponsor charter schools, but five years ago Minnesota allowed charities with a budget of higher than $2 million to sign on as a charter school sponsor.
The result has been "an explosion of new charter school numbers," Samuelson said. "The vast majority of these new charter schools have been sponsored by Christian religious organizations."