A team of legal experts well versed in religious and civil rights is praising a school district in Ohio for shutting down a video that has been used in 7th grade classes – and proselytized students to join Islam – without waiting for a court battle.
"I applaud the school district for resolving this issue without litigation," said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, which worked on the case involving the schools in the Olmsted Falls District.
He was, however, distressed to find during the course of his investigation that at least one teacher had ridiculed and disparaged the parent who raised concerns about the proselytizing, and "even suggesting she should be fired from her part time job as alumni director for the school."
"Teachers may not constitutionally show video tapes that violate the neutrality they must maintain toward religion or that engage in religious instruction," he said. "Showing 'Muslims and America' violated those principles and the Establishment Clause of our Constitution."
The dispute was resolved when officials in the Olmsted Falls District agreed to get rid of the video that is titled, "30 Days: Muslim and America" from the 7th grand world history classes.
The questions had been raised by Jenny McKeigue, a mother with three children in the district.
According to the law center, which had promised a constitutional challenge if the district had kept the proselytizing film, the mother became concerned in 2011 when her son was "was required to memorize the 5 Pillars of Islam."
Looking deeper into the curriculum, she found the video to which her son had been exposed. She asked the district to remove it and find one that was objective and relevant, "not one that taught children how to become a Muslim."
Her requests were denied through the administration, superintendent and school board levels.
Eventually she reached out to the Thomas More Law Center, which reported, "The questionable video features a Christian (Dave) agreeing to embrace the religion of Islam and the Muslim culture by living with a Muslim family for 30 days in Dearborn, Michigan. Dave was required to live, dress and eat as a Muslim, study the Quran daily and participate in Muslim prayer. The video features several instances of Muslim prayer and even a look at a 'how to pray in Islam' sheet complete with Dave practicing how to pray and reciting lines such as 'I testify that there is no God other than the Almighty' and 'I testify that Mohammad is the messenger of God.'"
Further, it portrays non-Muslims as "uneducated bigots" and tells students "if they hear someone say something wrong about Islam, it is their responsibility to fix it."
McKeigue felt the video was irrelevant and also violated board policies regarding the promotion of religion in the classroom. And she questioned its accuracy and wondered why no other religion was promoted.
"In response to McKeigue's criticism, the school district invited Olmsted Falls pastors to review the video. To the school district's chagrin, several pastors agreed with McKeigue and also questioned the accuracy of the video. Dr. Todd Hoadley, school superintendent at the time, disregarded their concerns. At a March 2013 board meeting, and in private conversations, he defended the video with the astonishing argument that the inaccuracies of the video proved its value," the legal team reported.
Thompson noted that while teachers may instruct about a religion, they are not allowed to "provide religious instruction."
"The education of our children is too important to be left to teachers and school administrators alone," he said.