The ACLU of Minnesota released hundreds of documents Monday from its ongoing lawsuit against an Inver Grove Heights charter school, based on the legal claim that school used taxpayer money to promote Islam.
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or TIZA, has been fighting that allegation since 2008, and has been the target of the ACLU lawsuit since 2009. The school closed before the 2011-2012 academic year, and its assets are now tied up in a pending bankruptcy case.
"In many ways this would've been a much easier case for the ACLU, bluntly, if instead of alleging a Muslim religion violates the first amendment, it was a Catholic religion," Chuck Samuelson, the executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, told reporters.
The ACLU also named the Minnesota Department of Education and TIZA's original sponsor, Islamic Relief USA, in the same case. But the civil rights advocacy organization has now reached out of court settlements with those defendants.
Among the issues raised by the case are the school's bus schedule, which was designed to fit around the after school activities, including religion classes on campus. The ACLU also alleged TIZA used state aid to help its landlord, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, renovate buildings.
The volumes of documents released Monday were findings of facts stipulated to by the ACLU, Islamic Relief and the Department of Education. Samuelson said he feels vindicated that two of the three parties to the lawsuit agreed with the ACLU's versions of the facts.
"If we could get a federal judge to say 'You can't do A,B and C' we could take that ruling to other charter schools and remind them how the courts interpret the laws, and here's what you can and cannot do."
TIZA has not signed off on any of the statements released by the ACLU, insisting that's to be decided by a trial. The school's former executive director Asad Zaman rejected the notion that the school used taxpayer money inappropriately, and accused the ACLU of pursuing the case to raise money and recover its legal fees.
"If they wish to make case law they need to find a live school, not a dead one," Zaman told KARE. "That's how the law works."
Zaman cited the fact that TIZA's lease payments to its landlord, the Muslim American Society, were all approved in advance by the Minnesota Department of Education. He said the controversial bus schedule was preferred almost universally by the parents.
"They're trying to try this case in the media," Zaman asserted. "These issues are statements of facts that need to be judged by a court of law in a trial."
The ACLU's lead civil attorney on the case, Katie Pfeifer, acknowledged that the odds of a jury trial are now very low because TIZA is in financial and legal limbo. But she said the case is still worth pursuing until there's a settlement or a ruling from the bench.
"With those millions of dollars that TIZA has inappropriately taken from the taxpayers of Minnesota, we believe it's necessary to keep going with the case until we're done," Pfeifer said Monday.
Islamic Relief U.S.A. could not continue as TIZA's sponsor due to a change in state law requiring that charter school sponsors be based in Minnesota and assume financial responsibility for the school. TIZA closed after failing to line up a sponsor in Minnesota that met the new criteria.
Zaman Monday said the ACLU lawsuit, and the media coverage of the suit, made it difficult for TIZA to find a sponsor to take the place of Islamic Relief.