The Corner

Can Tennessee Seventh Graders Be Required to Declare That There Is No God but Allah?

This morning, Breitbart led its news coverage with a story from — of all places — my home county. The Maury County, Tennessee, school district has kicked up a firestorm with a Five Pillars of Islam project that included asking students to write or recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration that there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. Parents weren’t necessarily upset about learning about Islam, but they were angry that the kids were reciting Muslim religious language. As one parent said, “I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the shahada, is unacceptable.” Other parents objected to the excessive emphasis on Islam over Judaism and Christianity. In fact, as the Daily Caller reported, the teaching about Christianity seems rather, umm, skewed:

It appears that Tennessee students don’t study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.

[Middle School Supervisor Jan] Hanvey promised that students would 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.

As a legal matter, it’s clear that public schools can teach about specific faiths, including the religious tenets of those faiths. And they of course can test students’ knowledge of religious doctrine. At the same time, there’s no legal impediment to accommodating students who — quite reasonably — don’t want to write or recite words they consider blasphemous. Just imagine the media outcry if a school made atheists and Muslims recite the Lord’s Prayer over strong student objections. However, I also like this bit of self-help from a student who wrote the shahada then added his or her own pithy commentary:

Putting aside the legalities for a moment, if the Daily Caller’s account is correct, then it is both absurdly PC and absolutely typical of modern public education that it would respectfully teach Islam while focusing on Christianity’s sins. If Maury County (or any county) wants to teach world religions, it’s not terribly difficult to do it in an even-handed manner. At a minimum, if you’re going to teach the doctrines of Islam, you can compare and contrast them with Christianity, Judaism, and other major faiths. Oh, and it’s not just Christians who’ve sinned in this world.

There is great value in teaching children the history of the Islamic faith and its basic beliefs. If the public doesn’t know who Mohammed is — much less the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam — it’s much more difficult for them to understand the world and our jihadist challenge. There is no value, however, in skewing that instruction to be respectful of one faith and dismissive of others, including the Christian faith of the vast majority of the students. Ultimately, I’m not terribly concerned about Maury County. My friends and neighbors will hold the school board accountable (my kids are in a private Christian school — new student applications are welcome!), but there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of districts where Christian parents have less influence, and the public education left will do what it typically does — celebrate diversity by undermining Christianity.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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