Islamic teachings being promoted in class and use of taxpayer money to benefit religious landlords - the claims by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota against Tarek ibn Ziyand Academy aren't new, but the release of supporting documentation is.
On Monday, the ACLU released a 30-page document, a stipulation of facts agreed to with former co-defendants in the case, that says TiZA crossed the line for a publicly funded charter school and promoted religion.
The document is backed by more than 3,000 pages of depositions, contracts and correspondence.
Its release is a "landmark" point in the nearly 3-year-old First Amendment battle, said ACLU executive director Chuck Samuelson.
The stipulation of facts paints a picture of an intentional blurring of education and Islam at the school, Samuelson said.
"Part of the entanglement is financial. Part of the entanglement is programmatic, the actual coursework and how the day is structured," Samuelson said. "Part of the entanglement is the leadership of the groups, that they're all the same people."
Asad Zaman, former executive director of the defunct school, said the stipulation of facts is merely "a press release" that holds no legal weight and hasn't changed since it was presented in court months ago.life of me understand, other than tainting the jury pool or kicking someone while they're down," why they'd release the document.
"The fact that I have a religious affiliation is well known and has been well known and has been discussed for more than three years...there's nothing new here," Zaman said Monday. "I cannot for the
TiZA attorney Shamus O'Meara called it a list of "cherry-picked" items designed to make the school look bad.
Among the ACLU's allegations:
- TiZA illegally transferred money to its religious landlords.
- The school marketed itself to the Muslim community as a school that followed Islamic law.
- The school used more than $1 million in taxpayer money to renovate buildings for religious landlords.
The details were released in the law offices of Dorsey & Whitney, which provided pro bono legal counsel to the ACLU during the suit.
"This is like a sweater: There are many, many threads to the problem," said Katie Pfeifer, a partner at the firm.
The documents released show a number of entanglements involving school leaders and finances.
The Muslim American Society has stated its principal goal "shall be to attain the pleasure of Allah (God)," according to the ACLU document.
Meanwhile, a subsidiary of the group, MAS-MN Property Holding Corp., was the landlord at TiZA's Inver Grove Heights campus.
Two TiZA leaders, founder Hesham Hussein and longtime executive director Zaman, also played key leadership roles with the Muslim American Society, the ACLU noted.
Both had been identified as imams, or prayer leaders.
According to Samuelson, TiZA received almost $20 million in state and federal aid from 2004 to 2010, including $17.48 million from the state.
During that time, TiZA gave almost $2.94 million to MAS-MN Holding. An additional $376,000 went to another religiously affiliated landlord for the Blaine campus.
A review of the school's finances found it "illegally transferred money to its religious landlords," according to the stipulation of facts. Checks meant for TiZA instead went directly into the accounts of the landlords.
The school also paid about $1.7 million to $1.8 million for improvements to its Inver Grove Heights campus, while the landlord paid nothing, the stipulation of facts said. The school paid $250,000 for improvements to the Blaine campus.
"The improvements were paid in part by money TiZA received from federal grants," the stipulation document notes.
The document alleges repeated instances where religion would bleed into the school day.
During a 2004 visit, Education Department representatives found "religious material displayed in TiZA's entryway and behind a teacher's desk," the stipulation document said.
And an after-school religious program wasn't really "after school," because buses wouldn't come to pick up students until the class was over, Samuelson said.
Other instances detailed in the stipulation document include students chanting "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - during school rallies and uniform policies that had different requirements for students and teachers based on gender.
BANKRUPTCY AFFECTS TRIAL
With the release of the stipulation of facts, Samuelson and Pfeifer said they can focus on the suit against TiZA and upcoming court action.
Pfeifer said "there is not a great likelihood of going to trial" Nov. 7, as scheduled. The attorney cited the ongoing bankruptcy TiZA as a complicating factor.
"We're in somewhat of a quandary here as to what will happen," she said.
Her firm and the ACLU would continue to push for attorney and staff fees from TiZA, which closed this summer.
After more than 12,000 hours of work logged by both groups, Pfeifer said, the total is somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.
O'Meara said he would ask the court to drop the case during an upcoming - but yet unscheduled - status conference.
"You can't change the policies of a school that doesn't exist. There is no live case or controversy anymore," he said.
TiZA leaders say they did nothing wrong.
And Monday, Zaman said the ACLU has kept the case alive "as an excuse to do fundraising."
"It's all about money, not about lofty constitutional principles," he said.