Dozens and dozens of taxpayer-funded Tennessee school districts are refusing to comply with an open records request from a conservative legal nonprofit seeking materials and documents relevant to the way public schools are teaching Islam — primarily to middle schoolers.
The American Center for Law & Justice, a law firm that generally promotes conservative and Christian principles, sent its open records requests to all 146 taxpayer-funded school districts in Tennessee earlier this month, reports The Tennessean, Nashville’s main newspaper.
A Nashville attorney, Chuck Cagle of the law firm Lewis Thomason, has provided almost 80 school districts (all represented by the firm) with a sample letter which district officials are customizing to deny the conservative group’s open records request.
“Our client denies your request in full,” the sample letter reads. “Among many other defects in your demand, the Tennessee Open Records Act only requires that certain public records be made available for personal inspection by Tennessee citizens. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(B). A public records request made by an agent on behalf of a foreign business entity is invalid.”
An attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law & Justice, CeCe Heil, says Cagle is applying his Tennessee law all wrong.
“We deal with government entities regularly and anticipate the necessity of engaging in negotiations pertaining to the actual documentation received,” Heil told The Tennessean in an email. “Our open records requests are valid and signed by an attorney who is a citizen of Tennessee.”
Also, Heil noted, the ACLJ is requesting the records because anxious Tennessee parents contacted its attorneys.
The ACLJ’s open records request is definitely broad. The conservative activist group is seeking every test, every quiz, every lesson plan, every study guide and every bit of instructional material concerning the teaching of religion in all Tennessee public school districts. The request specifies anything asking students to recite words in Arabic or to say or write Muslim prayers. It also seeks internal communications concerning how and classroom materials were chosen.
“I’ve never seen a records request that asked for this volume of information in 25 years of practicing law,” Cagle, the professional school district lawyer, complained.
Cagle has also claimed that compliance with an open records request about what schools are teaching in not feasible because it will take too long to respond and cost too much money.
“On the front end, this could cost school boards hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to respond to this request,” Cagle told Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV.
The open records request is related to a grassroots reaction among parents — primarily evangelical Christian parents — against what they perceive as an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in Tennessee middle schools.
Earlier this month, for example, parents in the Nashville suburb of in Spring Hill expressed alarm because their public middle school children are learning about Islam in a world history class but, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity.
(RELATED: Public School Parents Angry After Middle Schoolers Instructed To Write ‘ALLAH IS THE ONLY GOD’)
Mad mom Brandee Porterfield, who has a seventh-grade daughter at Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill, Tenn., said her daughter came home with world history schoolwork all about the Five Pillars of Islam and other core teachings of the Abrahamic religion. The first and most important pillar — the shahada in Arabic — is roughly translated as: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher instructed the girl to write: “Allah is the only God.”
A petition initiated by the American Center for Law & Justice entitled “Stop Islamic Indoctrination in School” had garnered 201,505 signatures as of early Wednesday morning.
A spokesman for the Islamic Center of Nashville, Rashed Fakhruddin, said he thinks both the ACLJ’s open records request and the claim that schools are teaching too much Islam are preposterous.
“I don’t know if this is meant to be a witch hunt, but all of the religions — Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism — they’re being taught in the schools,” Fakhruddin told WSMV.
In addition to Islam, students in Tennessee public schools also study Buddhism and Hinduism. However, they do not study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.
A Spring Hill school district official promised that students 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 an epicenter for America’s continuing encounter with Islam.
Back in February, for example, leaders of ISIS took to the group’s propaganda magazine to urge followers to assassinate an American professor who teaches in Memphis.
The professor, Yasir Qadhi, teaches at Rhodes College, a private bastion of the liberal arts in Memphis, Tenn.
Qadhi, born in Houston, Texas, is a professor of religious studies. He is also a Muslim cleric and the resident scholar at the Memphis Islamic Center.
ISIS and its adherents don’t like Qadhi because he stands athwart the radical Muslim entity, yelling stop.
“Contrary to popular opinion, ISIS does not have support in the American Muslim community,” Qadhi said when the calls for assassination were fresh.
“ISIS does not represent my faith, their actions are in contradiction to my faith, and I’m appalled at what they are doing in the name of my faith,” the professor added.
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. (RELATED: Tennessee Elementary School Lifts Fatwa Against Pork After Parents Complain)
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.
Over 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.