In today's Carnival of the Vanities is a link to an article on this blog about a strange church/state ruling. The facts of the case are that the Byron, California school district has a very controversial 3 week unit in their World History class for middle school students in which, in order to teach them about the history of Islam, they have students memorize and recite Muslim prayers from the Quran, simulate Muslim worship and even participate in some sort of Jihad game that simulates the Crusades. This naturally got some parents quite irate and they filed a lawsuit to stop it, assisted by the Thomas More Law Center. In December, the district court ruled for the school district and against the parents, saying that no reasonable student would view this as an endorsement of Islam.
For the record, I think that the judge in this case is dead wrong, and I expect the decision to be overturned either by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, or by the Supreme Court if it gets that far. Critics of the decision are right when they say that there is a double standard at work here, that if this teaching method were used to teach Christian history - memorizing bible verses and Christian prayers - it would (and should) be viewed as a blatant violation of the establishment clause. And so it is in this case. The ruling should be overturned and the school district should be forced to adhere to a long line of court rulings about what is and is not permissable in terms of teaching about religion in public schools. But that's not really my point in writing this. For the moment, I'm more interested in the reactions to this ruling and the way it's being spun, both by bloggers and in the media. While I agree with Richard, the author of the above cited blog, about the substance of the decision, his rhetoric is vastly overblown and the inferences he draws about the ACLU are little more than an extended non sequitur. He writes,
You're probably asking yourself, "Why is the ACLU not creating a fuss here? This is right up their alley!" Well, you'd be right to ask that question - unless the ACLU had a hand in the formulation of those religion-in-the-classroom guidelines...
At that point, he links to a Newsmax article entitled "Jailed Terror Suspect Helped ACLU Draft Schools' Anti-Christian Rules". It says,
Abdurahman Alamoudi, an alleged senior terrorist operative, is behind bars on an 18-count indictment. But he can take satisfaction in the fact that a court in California has just given the green light to schools following ACLUs religion-in-the-classroom guidelines, which he helped to formulate.
This is an absolutely perfect example of how folks with an axe to grind can completely distort reality by using half-truths and inferences that simply don't add up. Richard clearly implies that the ACLU didn't file a suit in this case because they "had a hand in the formulation of those religion-in-the-classroom guidelines". And Newsmax goes even further than that, implying that these unnamed guidelines were in fact written partly by a Muslim terrorist! My goodness, everyone should be up in arms at that infernal ACLU, shouldn't they? Well, no. Let's compare this hysterically overblown reaction to reality...
First, did you notice that Richard doesn't point out what those "religion-in-the-classroom guidelines" actually ARE? The direct implication, of course, is that the ACLU wrote guidelines for schools that mandated or allowed the absurd Byron schools class. Alas, that is completely false. You have to go to nearly the bottom of the Newsmax article to find out what those ACLU guidelines are, again with that big bad terrorist implication left in:
ACLU has confirmed to NewsMax that Alamoudi in fact represented American Muslim Council among the organizations that helped craft the ACLU document "Religion In The Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law."
Well by golly, that document must be the one that the Byron schools were following that told them to make all those kids dress up like Muslims and declare jihad on us, right? Wrong again. The document in question is one that was written in 1995 and sent to every public school in the country. One of the primary motivations for sending this out was that too many school administrators had violated the rights of students to religious expression out of ignorance of the law. The document begins:
The Constitution permits much private religious activity in and about the public schools. Unfortunately, this aspect of constitutional law is not as well known as it should be. Some say that the Supreme Court has declared the public schools "religion-free zones" or that the law is so murky that school officials cannot know what is legally permissible. The former claim is simply wrong. And as to the latter, while there are some difficult issues, much has been settled. It is also unfortunately true that public school officials, due to their busy schedules, may not be as fully aware of this body of law as they could be. As a result, in some school districts some of these rights are not being observed.
The full document is available online and I urge you to read it - and I defy you to find anything in these guidelines that even remotely encourages or allows the kind of nonsense that was going on in Byron schools. In fact, I defy you to find anything in those guidelines that is the least bit unreasonable.
Quite simply, the implication that the ACLU was behind the situation in Byron is complete and utter nonsense, and the ridiculous attempt to tie them in with terrorists is beyond contempt. One man from one of 35 organizations that issued this perfectly reasonable document is now accused of taking money from a charity with ties to Libya. And this story leaps from that one fact to the clear implication that the ACLU is attempting to convert our kids to Islam with the help of a terrorist! It makes one wonder why Richard and Newsmax are not ranting about the Christian Legal Society (a very conservative Christian group - they filed briefs defending the Louisiana creationism law that the Supreme Court struck down in 1987) or the National Association of Evangelicals. After all, they were part of the 35 organizations that put this document together along with the American Muslim Council, one of whose members has been accused of being involved with a charity that was also involved with bad guys. I mean, as long as we're drawing connections, why implicate only the ACLU? Because this is the snake oil they're selling, and they wouldn't get very far accusing the Anti-Defamation League or the National Council of Jewish Women or B'nai B'rith of helping a terrorist brainwash our kids for Islam, would they?
Richard ends his screed with this:
The most ridiculous part of this is that it is so obvious to everyone except the psychotic left that they are wrong.
No, Richard, the most ridiculous thing about it is that you didn't take even 5 minutes to do a little research to see if what was in the Newsmax article was true, or to think about whether the inferences were logical. In short, this is one gigantic lie. Yes, the Byron school history class is a horrible idea and it should be stopped immediately. But everything after that fact is nothing more than hysterical rhetoric based on half-truths, innuendo and distortions. Those infernal "guidelines" that you and Newsmax ranted about have exactly nothing to do with the Byron schools situation, they weren't written by a terrorist, and they are not, by any possible stretch of even the most deranged imagination, "anti-christian".
Follow up: To the bottom of his entry on this subject, Richard added the following:
In the interest in fairness, you should read Ed Brayton's reaction to this post. He disagrees with me. Strongly.
Kudos to Richard for linking to my strongly worded response to his post. That earns instant respect.