A legal battle has erupted over a California school district's decision to teach seventh graders about Islam and Muslim religious practices. Critics claim that a world history class encourages public school students to intone Islamic prayers, take Islamic names, and use a dice game to simulate a jihad.

The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco on June 25. The center asked the court to declare the Byron Union School District's use of the Islam simulation materials as an illegal establishment of religion.

Produced by Interact, a Carlsbad, California, publisher of participatory curriculum, the Islam simulation says students will "read a short history of Islam, acquire a Muslim name and learn about Muslim dress and customs." The More Center filed the action on behalf of parents and four children in the district near Oakland.

The case is a visible sign of parental anger over the teaching of Islam as history in California schools. John Domby is a San Diego parent of two students in the Lemon Grove School District. Domby objects to teachers asking students to write down Muslim doctrines. "They're making [students] write down things that, as a Christian, are insulting," he said.

Domby also disapproves of Houghton Mifflin's Across the Centuries textbook, used both in Byron and in Lemon Grove, as biased in favor of Islam.

Across the Centuries does not include the rituals involved in the More Center lawsuit, says Collin Earnst of Houghton Mifflin. Earnst said that schools have bought "hundreds of thousands of copies" of the book, which also includes sections on Christianity and Judaism.

The suit alleges the students performed the rituals during a world history class at Byron/Excelsior Public School. District officials, however, told CT that none of the extreme activities alleged in the suit occurred. "There was no coercion," Byron's then-superintendent Peggy Green has said. She said two families opted out of the program.

The Islamic simulation exercises may have been suggested by a voluntary California state curriculum, which also carries a warning, in an appendix, that teaching about religion must be "academic and not devotional." Says Tom Adams, administrator for curriculum frameworks at the California Department of Education in Sacramento, "Somebody [in Byron] apparently didn't read Appendix C."

Related Elsewhere

Other coverage includes:

Reading, Writing and Terrorist Attacks—Fox News (August 31, 2002)
Legal row over teaching of Islam—BBC (July 12, 2002)
Islam Taught in California Schools—CBN (February 8, 2002)
The Islamic Invasion of California's Schools—CBN (February 4, 2002)

Houghton Mifflin has on its site an extensive question and answer section on Across the Centuries.

A related controversy this summer developed when 4,200 freshmen and transfer students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were required to read and discussApproaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations.

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