The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed an appeal Friday in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a decision dismissing a case against the Maricopa Community College District and one of its professors for teaching material that the group claims condemns Islam.
The Scottsdale professor, Nicholas Damask, and the college came under harsh criticism in May when one of his students, Mohamed Sabra, posted three of the professor's quiz questions on social media.
Council for American Islamic Relations' claims
The questions frame terrorism as an absolute mandate of Islam, leaving no room for interpretation, according to the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The appeal details objections to these questions, after Sabra received wrong marks for stating terrorism in Islam is "always forbidden."
"Damask misquotes and misuses [quotes] in order to show a distorted message of Islam in his classroom which is on political science, not religion," said Imam Omar Tawil from the Islamic Community Center of Tempe in a CAIR video press release.
Judge Susan Brnovich dismissed the case on Tuesday, Aug. 18 saying Damask's course did not inhibit Sabra's personal worship in any way.
The video release also references a multiple-choice question that asks the reader to define "contemporary terrorism." The choice options are communist/left-wing, Mormon, fascist/right-wing, or Islamic.
"It's forcing someone to denounce their own faith in order to receive a good grade," said Tawil. "This would be unacceptable. If it was done to a Christian student or someone of another faith, just as it should be unacceptable and detestable if it were to happen to a Muslim."
Professor claims they're suing out of context
Damask claims the questions were taken out of context, from a unit geared towards terrorist sects within Islam. He also references the Jewish Zealot and Hindu Thuggee cult as educational objectives.
"If there was such a thing as Mormon terrorism and Southern Baptist terrorism, we would have a unit on that, too," Damask said in a May interview with The Arizona Republic. "But we don't, so we don't spend any time talking about that."
Following the social media posts, the school posted an apology to their social media page, leading to a crusade of comments demanding Damask apologize or resign.
A week after the school posted the apology, officials decided to delete the Instagram post.
"It's appeasing a foreign mob," he said to The Arizona Republic in May. "I'll never apologize for teaching the content that I am, or the manner in which I'm teaching it."
District backs the professor and his academic freedom
In May after Scottsdale Community College's interim president rushed to issue an apology, the district's interim chancellor, Steven Gonzales, said they failed to follow proper procedure in responding to the controversy.
Gonzales was concerned with the professor's academic freedom.
"I apologize, personally, and on behalf of the Maricopa Community Colleges, for the uneven manner in which this was handled and for our lack of full consideration for our professor's right of academic freedom," Gonzales said in a statement.
The Maricopa County Governing Board later issued a statement indicating a significant amount of misinformation has led to the professor receiving threats and harassment.
"It seems pretty awful to me to throw your 'family members' to a social media mob," Damask said. "That's really what's gotten me down the most."