After being threatened with a lawsuit, an Ohio school district agreed to remove a video about Islam from a seventh grade world history curriculum that was challenged as falling under the category of proselytizing and favoring one religion over another (a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause).
The video, “30 Days: Muslim and America,” features a Christian, “Dave,” who agrees to totally immerse himself in Islam for a month by living with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan. The video follows Dave as he dresses, eats and prays like a Muslim; and studies the Koran daily, among other Muslim activities.
The video proceeds to show Dave learning the Muslim prayers (and features a fact sheet “How to Pray in Islam”), reciting Muslim dogma such as “I testify that there is no God other than the Almighty” and “I testify that Mohammad is the messenger of God.”
Viewers of the video are also instructed that if they hear someone say something wrong about Islam, it is their responsibility to fix it.
Surprisingly, the video was being shown to students as part of the Ohio seventh grade "Social Studies Standards Expectations for Learning" which requires students to “describe achievements by the Islamic civilization and how these achievements were introduced into Western Europe in the time period between 750 BC – 1600AD.”
Critics of the video say that the video “Muslims and America,” was clearly irrelevant to the course description. Further they contended that the video portrayed non-Muslims as “uneducated bigots and Muslims as persecuted victims.”
Jenny McKeigue, a mother of three children in the school district, who challenged the school district for showing the video, became concerned about the curriculum in 2011 when her son (then in seventh grade) was required to memorize the “Five Pillars of Islam.” (That requirement was later discontinued.)
After finding out about the video, McKeigue asked that the video be discontinued on the grounds that it was inaccurate, not relevant to teaching the history of Islam and violated a number of the school board’s policies of not promoting religion in the classroom and the fair representation of all ethnic and religious groups.
McKeigue also pointed out that no other video was shown nor instruction given demonstrating how to perform the religious exercises of other religions.
All of McKeigue’s requests were denied.
Over the next year and a half, the school district refused all of McKeigue's requests for more information about the course – including being able to look at the class syllabus. McKeigue turned to the superintendent and the eventually turned to the school board until she eventually sought legal counsel who filed a series of requests for public records concerning the video on behalf of McKeigue
In response to McKeigue’s criticism, the school district asked local pastors to review the video. A number of the pastors agreed with McKeigue that the video was inaccurate and inappropriate. However, the superintendent at the time, Dr. Todd Hoadley, dismissed their concerns as well.
According to McKeigue's legal council, at a March 2013 Board meeting, and in private conversations, Hoadley “defended the video with the astonishing argument that the inaccuracies of the video proved its value.”
About the case, Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the law center commented, “Teachers may not constitutionally show video tapes that violate the neutrality they must maintain toward religion or that engages in religious instruction.
“Showing “Muslims and America” violated those principles and the Establishment Clause of our Constitution. Under the guise of teaching the history of Islam to seventh graders, history teachers were proselytizing students to the Islamic faith. Although I applaud the school district for resolving this issue without litigation, I was disappointed to discover internal communications from one history teacher ridiculing and disparaging Mrs. McKeigue, and even suggesting she should be fired from her part time job as alumni director for the school because of her criticism of the video.”
Thompson further said, “Teachers may provide instruction about a particular religion, but they are not constitutionally permitted to provide religious instruction … Mrs. McKeigue was exercising her constitutional right to free speech in fulfilling her crucial duty and responsibility as a parent.”