A Tennessee state legislator has proposed a state law that would prevent public schools from teaching anything about religious principles until students reach the 10th grade.
The bill from Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia (about 45 miles south of Nashville) comes in response to a grassroots campaign across Tennessee by parents — primarily evangelical parents — against what they perceive as an inappropriate focus on Islam in history and social studies courses in middle schools.
Last month, for example, parents in the Nashville suburb of in Spring Hill expressed alarm because their children in a taxpayer-funded middle school are learning about the Five Pillars of Islam in a world history class. (The first and most important pillar is roughly translated as: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.”) At the same time, the parents say, the course material pointedly ignores Christianity. (RELATED: Public School Parents Angry After Middle Schoolers Instructed To Write ‘ALLAH IS THE ONLY GOD’)
Parents in counties across the state have expressed similar complaints, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The parents have solid grounds for complaint, Rep. Butt, the Tennessee state House majority leader, believes.
“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” the Republican said on Friday, according to the Times Free Press. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”
Butt’s bill, if it becomes law, would prevent the teaching of all “religious doctrine” until students reach the last three years of high school.
“Junior high is not the time that children are doing the most analysis,” Butt, an experienced Sunday school teacher said, according to the Chattanooga newspaper. “Insecurity is in junior high a lot of times, and students are not able to differentiate a lot of things they are taught.”
The phrase “religious doctrine” is currently undefined in the annals of Tennessee law. A statute about using the Bible in public schools does use the phrase, though. The existing law referencing “religious doctrine” states concerns Bibles in school. It says schools can use Bibles provided the coursework avoids “teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions.”
Encyclopedia Britannica defines doctrine (and dogma) as “the explication and officially acceptable version of a religious teaching.”
Butt has noted that her bill does not seek to prevent kids in junior high from hearing about religion in their curricula. The goal, she says, is to avoid any instruction about religious principles.
Since the fracas about Islam in middle school erupted across Tennessee last month, state education officials have insisted that the Islam curriculum is purely secular and designed to inform students about history.
“The reality is the Muslim world brought us algebra, ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ and some can argue it helped bring about the Renaissance,” Metro Nashville Public Schools social studies teacher Kyle Alexander instructed The Tennessean, Nashville’s main newspaper. “There is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history.”
Last month Maury County Public Schools middle school supervisor Jan Hanvey told The Daily Herald, a newspaper out of Columbia, Tenn., that students learn about the Five Pillars of Islam during a one-day segment of the seventh-grade curriculum.
“It’s part of history,” Hanvey proclaimed to the Herald. “Children need to know the ‘why,’ and they need to be able to learn and know where to find the facts, instead of going by what they hear or what they see on the Internet.”
Students also study Buddhism and Hinduism, the former social studies teacher noted.
However, at no point do Tennessee middle school students study Christianity per se. There is not, for example, one class day dedicated to the basic Jesus story.
Hanvey promised that Maury County 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.
Tennessee lawmakers recently decided to expedite a review of the way Islam and other religions are taught in the state’s public schools, The Tennessean notes. The review, which had been slated for 2018, will now occur in January.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Tennessee appears to be an epicenter for America’s encounter with Islam.
In July, lone Muslim gunman Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old naturalized citizen from Kuwait, brutally murdered four Marines at a military recruiting center and a Naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Back in February, leaders of ISIS took to the group’s propaganda magazine to urge followers to assassinate an American professor who teaches in Memphis. The professor, Houston, Texas-born Yasir Qadhi, teaches at Rhodes College, a private bastion of the liberal arts in Memphis. ISIS and its adherents don’t like Qadhi because he stands athwart the radical Muslim entity, yelling stop. (RELATED: ISIS Is Now Threatening To Murder A COLLEGE PROFESSOR IN TENNESSEE)
In 2013, officials at Sunset Elementary School in the affluent Nashville suburb of Brentwood rescinded a ban on delicious pork just one day after it went into effect because parents complained. The parents and other locals believed that the prohibition on pork had been an attempt to defer to the sensibilities of unidentified Muslim students. (RELATED: Tennessee Elementary School Lifts Fatwa Against Pork After Parents Complain)
Over percent of the residents of Tennessee identify as Christian, according to a 2014 Pew poll. About one percent of Volunteer State residents call themselves Muslim.