Following complaints from parents and lawmakers that Tennessee students were learning too much about Islam in school, a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill that would keep elementary and middle school students from learning about any religion.
Rep. Sheila Butt (R) introduced the bill on Friday. It provides that schools should not include “religious doctrine” in the curriculum before 10th grade and that schools cannot emphasize one religion over another.
“There has been much discussion about the teaching of religion in our public schools and there is a lot of confusion between the State Board of Education and the local Boards of Education about what is being mandated to be taught to our children. This common sense bill would spell it out in plain terms,” Butt wrote in a Saturday blog post about her bill. “Our parents send their children to school to learn, not be indoctrinated.”
Butt made national news in February when she called for a “Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country” in a Facebook post. She deleted the post and insisted that NAAWP stood for “National Association for the Advancement of Western Peoples.”
Her new legislation follows numerous complaints over how much students in Tennessee should learn about the Muslim faith after parents complained that students had to memorize the five pillars of Islam and write “Allah is the only God” for an assignment, according to The Tennessean.
“There is a big difference between education and indoctrination,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said in a September statement, according to The Tennessean. “It is reprehensible that our school system has exhibited this double-standard, more concerned with teaching the practices of Islam than the history of Christianity. Tennessee parents have a right to be outraged and I stand by them in this fight.”
Numerous state lawmakers fretted over the curriculum’s inclusion of Islam and called for a revision to the curriculum.
“Tennesseans have seen the radical side of Islam, and many have grown skeptical of this ‘peaceful religion’. As a result, it comes as no surprise that Tennessee parents & citizens are upset to learn that Tennessee students are being forced to spend upwards of three weeks learning about Islam in their local public schools,” state Rep. Andy Holt (R) wrote in a September blog post. “After reviewing the standards set by the Tennessee Department of Education, it has become abundantly clear that a strong bias in favor of Islam over all other religions is being taught to our children in public schools.”
State Rep. Tilman Goins (R) complained that the section in the history curriculum on Israel is not titled “The Jewish World,” yet the curriculum includes an “Islamic World” section.
“If a study of a geographic region such as ‘The Middle East’ were to discuss the major religions found there, so be it! But until there is a section on India referred to as ‘The Hindu World,’ I do not believe this favoritism toward Islam should be allowed to continue to exist,” Goins said in a statement to The Tennessean.
Butt said on Friday that the current curriculum’s inclusion of religion is not “appropriate,” according to The Tennessean.
“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” she said. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”
Yet, Butt stressed that her bill does not target Islam and said that students in middle school are simply too young to learn too much about religion in school.
“If you’re teaching the Middle East, then of course you’re going to mention the religion that was prevalent in that area,” Butt said, according to The Tennessean. “But to teach the doctrine is another thing. … It’s just a bill about balancing the teaching of religion in education.”
Following Butt’s introduction of the bill, the Council on American-Islamic Relations slammed the legislation.
“Islamophobes like Rep. Butt fail to recognize that there is a big difference between teaching students about religion as an important part of world history and promoting particular religious beliefs,” CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw said in a statement. “The education of children in Tennessee should not be delayed because of anti-Muslim bigotry.”
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