One of my more contentious battles on Twitter came in late 2014, after a dad in Maryland received a no trespassing order from La Plata High School in Maryland. The dad, John Wood, “challenged a history class assignment that had students list the benefits of Islam,” according to a news account.
The reporter lied. Seriously. There was nothing in the assignment about the “benefits” of Islam. The assignment was about the tenets of Islam, and it’s something we should be expecting and even demanding our schools teach.
This is not a double standard. Atheists are frequently accused of crying foul whenever schools try to promote Christianity, but looking the other way when those same schools teach about other religions. But the argument is disingenuous, because there’s a huge difference between a public school promoting a religion and that same school teaching about a religion.
Reasonable people, atheists and theists alike, do not object to public schools teaching about religion.
A public school curriculum that teaches about the history of Judaism would be perfectly within its rights to expect its students to learn the 10 Commandments, and I don’t know of a single atheist group that would object. A school that teaches about Christianity would, of necessity, include information about the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Again, I don’t know of a single atheist group that would object to a public school teaching about those religions.
For a school to teach about the Five Pillars of Islam would be equally uncontroversial.
At least, it would be if parents did not go out and actively oppose the education of their children.
But that’s what John and Melissa Wood of Maryland have done. Last month, they sued La Plata High School over their daughter’s homework assignment, claiming that it indoctrinated their daughter and tricked her into becoming a Muslim by reciting the “Shahada,” the Islamic Creed that states “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
The stupidity of the lawsuit is evident from several facts. First, the kid was not a Muslim before the assignment and is not a Muslim now. Second, the people who filed the lawsuit, The Thomas More Law Center, recited the Shahada in the lawsuit, and they are not now Muslims. Third, I just recited the Shahada, and I’m not a Muslim.
But if I’m going to understand Islam, which is followed by nearly a quarter of the world’s population, I’m going to need to understand what they believe. And that means someone has to teach about it.
Confusing education with indoctrination, the Woods are actually telling the world they want their daughter to be dumber.
We’ll be following the lawsuit as it progresses.
As an atheist, I have a problem with schools being used to promote religion. That is not the same thing. A school-led prayer promotes religion. A social studies lesson that includes memorizing the Lord’s Prayer does not promote religion. It merely instructs students about something important to followers of a particular religion.
I came across a handful of public school assignments and lesson plans about the Protestant Reformation. Public school students are taught parts of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and are expected to memorize at least some of them. The students are taught, within the context of what distinguished Luther from Catholicism, that salvation is by faith alone and that the Bible is the only rule for faith and practice.
To paraphrase what someone [falsely] said about atheists, if the lesson plans on the Reformation had instead been about Islam, Christians would be apoplectic!
But atheists do not object to these lessons. Heck, even Catholics do not object to these lessons! They are an important part of history. An educated citizenry in the USA needs to have an understanding of the Reformation, which involves at least a basic understanding of Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism. I don’t expect the school to take sides, to say Luther was right or the Catholic Church was right. But I certainly expect schools to teach about those religions.
And the same goes for Islam. Teaching about Islam is not indoctrination, just like teaching about the Reformation is not indoctrination. It’s history. Get over it.
Teaching Islam in our schools should not be controversial. Wood, a U.S. Marine who fought for our way of life, has turned himself into an activist for ignorance. And he is simply wrong about the school “forcing” Islam on anyone. Those who are enabling Wood and encouraging his dissent are not standing against Islam. They’re standing against education. And it’s time to stand down.
Portions of this article were previously posted in an earlier blog.