Pop quiz! According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not?
What was Joseph Smith's religion?
On what day does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
All of these questions are from a quiz that researchers from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life gave over the phone. And guess what? America flunks the test on basic knowledge about religion. On average, Americans got 16 out of the 32 multiple-choice questions right.
That's why it's great to see University of California Los Angeles students rallying to save the university's Islamic Studies program. UCLA's graduate Islamic Studies program is one of a handful of programs that offer the opportunity for intensive academic study of Islam. And UCLA's library has one of the best collections on Islam in the country.
But the program is in danger. UCLA has had a freeze on Islamic Studies applicants since 2008, and the last graduate students are expected to be finished by 2011. Budget cuts, department shuffling and red tape means the program is at a standstill. The program needs funds from UCLA to pay for teaching assistantships and fellowships, the chair of the program told UCLA's Daily Bruin.
This news comes on the heels of even more religious intolerance in Texas, where the Texas Board of Education voted on Friday to limit references to Islam in any new Social Studies textbooks, accusing textbook writers of inserting "pro-Islam" and "anti-Christian" bias into previously published books. Thesame board passed a resolution earlier this year approving a Social Studies curriculum that will shine a positive light on 1950s Communist-hating Senator Joe McCarthy, among other things. You stay classy, Texas.
Ilona Gerbakher, a fourth-year Middle Eastern and North African Studies student at UCLA, is leading the charge to bring back the Islamic Studies program. She applied but because of the admissions freeze, hasn't been able to take part in the program. She's created a Facebook group and a petition to the university which is gaining more and more signatures.
The need for in-depth education about Islam has never been more important. As one of the best universities in the U.S., it is imperative that UCLA quickly re-instate its Islamic Studies program. Letting it flounder only feeds our nation's ignorance about religion. And the consequences of that are much worse than flunking a pop quiz.
Carol Scott is the Education Editor for Change.org. A former reporter who covered local schools and higher education in Virginia, she has written for the Newport News, Va. Daily Press, the Dayton Daily News, and the Orlando Sentinel.