Tennessee Bill Would Prohibit Public Schools From Teaching About Islam

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

In this Aug. 10, 2012 photo, worshipers attend midday prayers at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

In response to complaints from Tennessee parents that what their children are being taught about Islam borders on indoctrination, a Republican lawmaker in the state has proposed legislation to prohibit schools from teaching “religious doctrine” until high school.

Rep. Sheila Butt’s proposed bill comes at a time when anti-Islamic sentiment has been surfacing at schools across the country. If enacted, the bill would ban schools from teaching students younger than 10th grade about Islam or other topics the state decides constitute “religious doctrine.”

“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” Butt, who claims her bill isn’t targeted at Islam, told the Tennessean. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”

Parents in the state have taken issue with world history classes that teach about the Five Pillars of Islam and other historical lessons about how the religion has influenced regions of the world. Butt claims it would not be difficult for the state to discern the difference between teaching religion and teaching religious doctrine, but Tennessee teachers and education officials disagree. One teacher told the Tennessean that “there is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history.”

Tennessee law currently says that the Bible can be taught in schools, as long as schools aren’t using it to teach “religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation.”

The Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR), the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, recently called on public officials to protect the civil rights of Tennessee’s Muslim community after one of the state’s sheriffs told people that he plans to urge other Tennessee sheriffs to monitor Muslims in their jurisdictions.

The sheriff, Jim Hammond from Hamilton County, claimed that Muslims are planning to take over the state and has said that “Islam is communism with a god.”

Before that incident, CAIR asked the Department of Justice to investigate the civil rights implications of another Tennessee sheriff who claims President Obama is a Muslim and who has also said he plans to monitor law-abiding Muslims in his community.

The anti-Islamic sentiment expressed by parents and officials in Tennessee is not unique to the state. In August, a group of adult protesters stood outside a kindergarten class in Houston, Texas to protest a new Arabic immersion program at the school. One person held up a sign reading: “Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned from Muslims on 9-11-2001.” And earlier this year, an accelerant was used to burn down an Islamic community and education center in the same city.