School’s Islam Lessons Freak Parents Out

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor

Parents of seventh graders at a Tennessee middle school have expressed unease over recent lessons about the Islamic faith — particularly the assignment to write out the Five Pillars of Islam and the fundamental Islamic believe that “Allah is the only God and Muhammad is his prophet.”

“I do think it is the state sponsoring religion in schools,” said one particularly vocal mom, Brandee Porterfield, speaking on Fox and Friends on Tuesday. “They’re not going over [other religions], so for the students to have to memorize this prayer, it does seem like it’s indoctrination.”

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Porterfield, who could not be reached by Yahoo Parenting, added that she was upset that the lesson had “skipped over” Christianity, and that she had reviewed the state standards to find that, later in the year, “they do have some studies on Hinduism, Buddhism, and things like that, but they are not learning any other doctrines or creeds, and that’s what my concern was.”

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On Facebook, Porterfield shared images of her child’s lessons, encouraging other parents to contact Spring Hill Middle School to voice their concerns, and noting, “My children will not be making a profession of Islamic faith, no matter what the consequences.” That post was shared more than 1,300 times, prompting angry comments that declare the school’s approach to be “disturbing,” “insane,” and “incomprehensible that this could happen in the USA!”

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Spring Hill Middle School mom Brandee Porterfield speaking out on Fox News about Islam lessons. (Photo: Fox News)

On the Maury County Public Schools Facebook page, schools director Chris Marczak issued a statement addressing the concerns, noting that the lessons followed the State of Tennessee curriculum standards. It read, in part, “For this last section on the Islamic World this past week, our educators had students complete an assignment that had an emphasis on Islamic Faith. The assignment covered some sensitive topics that are of importance to Islamic religion and caused some confusion around whether we are asking students to believe in or simply understand the religion. It is our job as a public school system to educate our students on world history in order to be ready to compete in a global society, not to endorse one religion over another or indoctrinate. I encourage all Maury County parents to be their child’s first and main teacher. It is our job as parents of our own children to instill in them the beliefs of our individual households.”

A school spokesperson did not immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for further comment.

Maury County, according to U.S. Census records, has a population of 85,515 and is 84.6 percent white. While 52.6 percent of the population does not subscribe to any particular religion, according to city data, 44.9 percent are adherents of Christianity (either Protestant or Catholic), and only 2.4 percent consider themselves “other.”

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One of the contested Islam lessons, as posted on Facebook by Brandee Porterfield. (Photo: Facebook)

“It’s ironic, because the students there are getting the Christian perspective,” Rebecca Markert, an attorney with the non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation organization tells Yahoo Parenting. She says the organization “tangled with” the Maury County school district a few years back, following complaints that a high school basketball coach was espousing prayer and the prioritizing of faith to his players — and also that the Spring Hill Elementary School grounds were permanently hosting a trailer from a local church to advertise Sunday worship services held in the school. The trailer was eventually moved. “So obviously [the Christian perspective] is pervasive here,” she says. “At least it was in 2012.”

Still, Markert notes, the teaching of religion — which is permissible, according to the Supreme Court — must be factual, and not indoctrinate. “It’s a hard line to toe, and puts schools in a difficult position because it comes down to how it’s presented and how objective it is,” she says, noting that the FFRF believes teaching religion comparatively is the best approach. “Teaching the history and literature of religion is important for a well-rounded education,” she says. “But you can’t teach salvation.”

Steven Freeman, director of legal affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, concurs. “There’s a difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s a fine line teachers have to walk — not telling students what they should or shouldn’t believe.” Still, he says, it’s “perfectly legitimate” to include such lessons in the context of history.

“From what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound to me like [Spring Hill is] trying to indoctrinate,” Freeman notes, adding that it’s unrealistic to keep track of how many hours of classroom time a teacher devotes to each religion. “A good teacher will explain more about what kids know less about,” he says. “You just don’t want anyone to feel less than.”

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