Tennessee School Districts Reject Records Request for Material on Teaching Islam

Student was instructed to write: “Allah is the only God"

Tennessee’s public school districts, which have come under fire for controversial lessons on Islam, are now refusing to comply with an Open Records request to release information on assignments, tests, and lesson plans, claiming that it would cost them millions to do so.

The records request comes from the American Center for Law & Justice, a conservative non-profit legal group that works to “protect religious and constitutional freedoms.” The ACLJ submitted the inquiry after a grassroots coalition of parents and citizens expressed concern that the middle school curriculum puts an undue emphasis on Islam while neglecting to cover Christianity.

The Daily Caller describes one of these complaints in detail:

Mad mom Brandee Porterfield, who has a seventh-grade daughter at Spring Hill Middle School in Spring Hill, Tenn., said her daughter came home with world history schoolwork all about the Five Pillars of Islam and other core teachings of the Abrahamic religion. The first and most important pillar — the shahada in Arabic — is roughly translated as: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Porterfield said her daughter’s teacher instructed the girl to write: “Allah is the only God.”

Also at issue is the fact that while students in Tennessee public schools make a fairly extensive study of Islam, and also Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity is almost entirely ignored and the basic story of the New Testament is not covered.

According to the Daily Caller, school district officials have an answer for this too:

A Spring Hill school district official promised that students 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.

The Tennessee school districts have enlisted the help of an attorney who drafted a letter asserting that the ACLJ’s records request is invalid because “the Tennessee Open Records Act only requires that certain public records be made available for personal inspection by Tennessee citizens. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(B). A public records request made by an agent on behalf of a foreign business entity is invalid.”

But ACLJ lawyer CeCe Heil argues that this letter misinterprets Tennessee law:

Heil told The Tennessean:

We deal with government entities regularly and anticipate the necessity of engaging in negotiations pertaining to the actual documentation received… Our open records requests are valid and signed by an attorney who is a citizen of Tennessee.

A lawyer for the school districts, Chuck Cagle, responds that the request for records is too large—covering every test, quiz, lesson plan, and other material related to teaching religion as well as emails and other documents clarifying how the curriculum was determined—and that it would “cost school boards hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to respond to this request.”

But while the school districts stall, anxious parents are waiting for answers. Tennessee lawmakers may ultimately be the ones to provide them. Legislators have decided to move forward with a review of the teaching of religion in the state’s public schools—originally scheduled to occur in 2018, the review will be undertaken in January.