November 2006 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a controversy involving a California public school district’s history lesson on Islam.

At the start of its new term in early October, the high court turned away an appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding that a course studying the origins of Islam did not amount to unconstitutional school sponsorship of a specific religion.

In 2003, Tiffany Eklund, a parent of students at Excelsior Middle School in Byron, Calif., sued the school district arguing that a course on Islam indoctrinated students in that faith by having them engage in role-playing. A Religious Right law firm, the Thomas More Law Center, represented Eklund.

Eklund argued that the course was not educational, but an attempt to indoctrinate students. She claimed that students at Excelsior were forced to take on Muslim personas and memorize prayers.

School district officials vigorously defended the curriculum. Superintendent Thomas Meyer told the Contra Costa Times that the course did not indoctrinate students and that the role-playing was “blown way out of proportion.”

During arguments before the federal courts, lawyers for the school district noted that similar teaching techniques were employed in a class on medieval history and Christianity. Eklund’s son played a priest during that course, the newspaper reported.

In an unpublished opinion in Eklund v. Byron Union School District, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit concluded that the school’s instruction about Islam did not encompass “overt religious exercises” that would violate church-state separation.

Linda Lye, an attorney for the school district, lauded the high court for declining the case, saying the district could now “get on with educating children and exposing them to the world’s great cultures and religions in an appropriate way.”