The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on people in Tennessee to oppose a bill that would prevent public schools from teaching the principles of Islam and every other religion until students reach the 10th grade.
Tennessee state legislator Sheila Butt, a Republican, proposed the bill late last week in response to a grassroots campaign across the state by parents — primarily evangelical parents — against what they perceive as an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in taxpayer-funded middle schools.
House Bill 1418, if it becomes law, would prevent the teaching of all "religious doctrine" until students reach the last three years of high school.
CAIR labeled Rep. Butt's bill "an anti-Islam bill" which is "tied to Islamophobic claims" in a statement sent to The Daily Caller.
"The introduction of the bill is being fueled by rising hysteria over the false claim that middle schoolers are being subjected to 'Islamic indoctrination' because the basic tenets of Islam and Muslim world history is being taught as part of a state-approved curriculum about the impact world religions have on history," the Muslim civil liberties group said. "Islam is only one of the many world religions being taught in the curriculum that includes Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, among other religions and belief systems."
CAIR government affairs manager Robert McCaw also weighed in.
"Islamophobes like Rep. Butt fail to recognize that there is a big difference between teaching students about religion as an important part of world history and promoting particular religious beliefs," McCaw declared. "The education of children in Tennessee should not be delayed because of anti-Muslim bigotry."
Complaining parents from across Tennessee have expressed alarm in recent weeks because their children in public middle schools are learning about the Five Pillars of Islam in a world history and social studies classes. (The first and most important pillar is roughly translated as: "There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." At the same time, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity.
Rep. Butt, the majority leader in the Tennessee House and a longtime Christian Sunday school teacher, noted that her bill does not seek to prevent kids in junior high from hearing about religion in their curricula. The goal is to avoid any instruction specifically about doctrine.
"I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate," the Republican said on Friday, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they're learning about what a religion teaches."
Since the fracas about Islam in middle school erupted across Tennessee earlier this school year, state education officials have insisted that the Islam curriculum is purely secular and designed to inform students about history.
Last month Maury County Public Schools middle school supervisor Jan Hanvey told The Daily Herald, a newspaper out of Columbia, Tenn., that students learn about the Five Pillars of Islam during a one-day segment of the seventh-grade curriculum.
Students also study Buddhism and Hinduism, the former social studies teacher noted.
However, at no point do Tennessee middle school students study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.
Hanvey promised that Maury County students would eventually come across a reference to Christianity when history teachers reach the "Age of Exploration" in eighth grade. Then, students will hear about Christians persecuting other Christians in some countries in Western Europe.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Tennessee appears to be an epicenter for America's encounter with Islam.
In July, lone Muslim gunman Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old naturalized citizen from Kuwait, brutally murdered four Marines at a military recruiting center and a Naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Back in February, leaders of ISIS took to the group's propaganda magazine to urge followers to assassinate Houston, Texas-born Yasir Qadhi, a professor who teaches at Rhodes College in Memphis.
In 2013, officials at Sunset Elementary School in the affluent Nashville suburb of Brentwood rescinded a ban on delicious pork just one day after it went into effect because parents complained. The parents and other locals believed that the prohibition on pork had been an attempt to defer to the sensibilities of unidentified Muslim students.
Over 80 percent of the residents of Tennessee identify as Christian, according to a 2014 Pew poll. About one percent of Volunteer State residents call themselves Muslim.
Tennessee lawmakers recently decided to expedite a review of the way Islam and other religions are taught in the state's public schools, The Tennessean notes. The review, which had been slated for 2018, will now occur in January.
In 2014, the United Arab Emirates officially designated 83 groups as terrorist organizations, including CAIR, which is the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in the United States.