I reported in July 2002 on a court case concerning the use in the Byron, California school district of a three-week curriculum unit called Islam: A Simulation of Islamic History and Culture, 610-1100. Among other things, these materials instruct students to fight mock battles of jihad against "Christian crusaders" and other assorted "infidels," after which, upon gaining victory, they "Praise Allah." I pointed out how "This simulation blatantly contradicts Supreme Court rulings which permit public schools to teach about religion on condition that they do not promote it" and concluded with this observation:
Americans and other Westerners face a choice: They can insist that Islam, like other religions, be taught in schools objectively. Or, as is increasingly the case, they can permit true believers to design instruction materials about Islam that serve as a mechanism for proselytizing. The answer will substantially affect the future course of militant Islam in the West.
Well, that answer - or at least the first round of it - was given on Dec. 5 in an opinion filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco (and reported on today by Associated Press), with victory going to those happy to see U.S. public schools used to proselytize for Islam. U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton found no evidence that the simulation induced students to engage in activities with devotional or religious intent. She ruled that no reasonable student would find the assignment to be an endorsement of Islam.
The Byron school district superintendent, Tom Meyer, said he was "delighted" with the opinion: "Teachers here in Byron and everywhere can continue using sound pedagogical practices to motivate kids to learn more." Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice, which argued for the plaintiffs, noted more astutely that the ruling "again shows a double standard when you're dealing with religious issues in public schools, one for Christians and one for all the other faiths." (December 11, 2003)
Nov. 18, 2005 update: A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Thomas More Legal Center's argument in Eklund v. Byron Union School District that classroom instruction of Across the Centuries at the Excelsior School in Byron, California, constituted religious indoctrination. It decided that:
The Byron Union School District's (District) Islam program did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Islam program activities were not "'overt religious exercises' that raise Establishment Clause concerns."
Edward White of the Thomas More Legal Center, attorney for the Eklund family, responded by saying he will ask the full appeals court for a rehearing on the grounds that the panel failed to address his argument that the district violated parents' rights. "What happened in this classroom was clearly an endorsement of religion and indoctrination of children in the Islamic religion, which would never have stood if it were a class on Christianity or Judaism."
Dec. 28, 2005 update: The Thomas More Law Center has formally asked that the entire Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 24 active judges in all, rule on what can be done in public schools with regard to teaching Islam and other religions. Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the center, called on the appellate court to clarify in a published opinion just how far public schools can go in teaching about religion.
June 9, 2006 update: The Thomas More Law Center is appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Oct. 2, 2006 update: The Supreme Court refused today to consider the Byron case, bringing the litigation to a definitive conclusion.