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e-mail: ncac@ncac.org
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Joan E. Bertin
Executive Director

NCAC PARTICIPATING
ORGANIZATIONS
Actors’ Equity Association
American Association of
School Administrators
American Association of
University Professors
American Association of
University Women
American Booksellers
for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Ethical Union

NCAC Resource

Islam in the Classroom:
Teaching About Religion Is Not Religious Indoctrination

American Federation of Teachers
American Jewish Committee
American Library Association
American Literary Translators
Association
American Orthopsychiatric Association

A rising grassroots movement is seeking to restrict how Islam is discussed
in textbooks and other public school curricula. These campaigns, which
often appear fueled by undisguised Islamophobia, misrepresent teaching
about religion as indoctrination into a religion, misunderstand the
imperatives of the First Amendment, and threaten the integrity of the public
education system.

American Society of Journalists
& Authors
Americans United for Separation of
Church & State
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild
Catholics for Choice
Children’s Literature Association
College Art Association
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

A number of incidents have been reported around the country, some of
which may be connected to national organizations. The conservative
American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) claims there is "a nation-wide
epidemic" of Islamic "indoctrination" in public schools, some of which it
deems unconstitutional. It singled out a chapter in a 7th grade Tennessee
study guide called "Origins of Islam." The group is active in cases in
Wisconsin, Georgia and California, and its "Stop Islamic Indoctrination in
School" petition has over 200,000 signatures. Another group, ACT! For
America, has inspired local groups to challenge history textbooks; in March
of this year, activists filed formal complaints about two textbooks in
Charlotte County, Florida, claiming that they whitewash Islam.

The Creative Coalition
Directors Guild of America
Dramatists Guild of America
First Amendment Lawyers Association
International Reading Association
Lambda Legal
Modern Language Association
National Center for Science Education
National Communication Association
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
National Youth Rights Association
The Newspaper Guild/CWA

Some government officials are getting involved. In Tennessee, Rep.
Marsha Blackburn declared in September that it "is reprehensible that our
school system…is more concerned with teaching the practices of Islam
than the history of Christianity." The following month, Republican state
representative Sheila Butt introduced a bill that would prohibit schools from
teaching about "religious doctrine" until 10th grade. The Tennessee
Department of Education is planning to review its history curriculum in
January 2016. And protesters in Walton County, Georgia claimed that 7th
graders were being "indoctrinated" into Islam in a world history class. While
educators explained that state standards required students to describe the
cultures and religions of the Middle East, the Department of Education

PEN American Center
People for the American Way
Planned Parenthood Federation
of America
Project Censored
SAG-AFTRA
Sexuality Information & Education
Council of the U.S.
Society of Children’s Book Writers
& Illustrators
Student Press Law Center
Union for Reform Judaism
Union of Democratic Intellectuals
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ
Office of Communication
United Methodist Church
United Methodist Communications
Women’s American ORT
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
Writers Guild of America, East
Writers Guild of America, West

removed a program guide called "Respecting Beliefs" that was part of its statewide
middle school requirements.
While parents and community members have every right to voice their opinion about
curriculum, most of these efforts reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about some
Constitutional principles:

-Learning about religion does not violate the Establishment Clause The
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the
government from favoring or disfavoring any particular religion or religion in general. It
does not prohibit public schools from teaching about religion, when this is presented
"objectively as part of a secular program of education," as the Supreme Court stated in
Abington v. Schempp (1963). The academic study of religion—whether historical,
literary, or cultural—is designed and intended to encourage awareness and information,
not acceptance or devotion.
-Curriculum and teaching decisions must be based on pedagogical reasons, not
religious opinions. In the words of A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public
Schools, which has been endorsed by leading educational and religious associations
including the National PTA and the Christian Legal Society, "[t]he academic needs of
the course determine which religions are studied."
-Religious freedom does not mean freedom from information. Parents do not have
a constitutional right under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to prevent
public schools from presenting educationally valuable material that conflicts with their
religious beliefs.
-Removing books because of their content is unconstitutional. In all areas of
instruction, including the teaching of material about or referring to Islam, public schools
are required to respect basic First Amendment principles: Books or any other
educational materials may not be removed simply because of disagreement with the
ideas contained in those materials or so as to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in
politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion'." Pico v. Island Trees (1982)
-Students have the right to express their beliefs, including their religious beliefs,
at school when students are asked or permitted to express personal views on the
issue. Although public schools may not endorse or reject particular religious ideas,
students are free to express their own views in various contexts, as long as doing so
does not interfere with the educational program. According to guidelines published by
the U.S. Department of Education, students "may express their beliefs in the form of
homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based
on the religious content of their submissions."
-Religious literacy matters. According to the American Academy of Religion, religious
literacy includes "the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political,

social and cultural expressions across time and place." Religious beliefs and practices
shape events at home and abroad. In a diverse democracy and in an interconnected
world, religious literacy is crucial to responsible citizenship and sensible public and
foreign policy.
-Americans need more religious literacy, not less. Surveys by Pew Research Center
show that although six in ten U.S. adults say that religion is very important in their lives,
many lack basic understanding of the world's major faiths. Roughly half of Americans do
not know that Joseph Smith was Mormon, that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, or that the
Quran is the Islamic holy book.

School and government officials should be mindful of these principles in responding to
complaints about the teaching of Islam.

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