Are they promoting Islam in New Jersey?

Yesterday I told you about a preliminary order in a case from New Jersey in which a parent claims that the district is promoting Islam through its social studies curriculum.  The district filed a Motion to Dismiss the case and the judge denied it. Despite that, I’m going to issue a bold prediction here: The district will prevail in this case.

The plaintiff claims that the district is giving short shrift to Christianity and Judaism while promoting the Islamic faith to 7th graders.  The plaintiff cites the fact that the curriculum includes two videos and a worksheet that “contain materials that members of the Islamic faith use to express religious beliefs or proselytize others.”  Those materials include: “May God help us all find the true faith, Islam. Ameen.”

The judge’s brief opinion tells us that the plaintiff is alleging that her child “has been exposed” to these materials.

Well! Exposing students to a variety of cultures, customs and religions is very much what “social studies” is all about.   Exposing falls far short of proselytizing, or indoctrinating.  A well educated high school graduate should know that the world is full of a wide variety of religions and should be able to tell us at least a little bit about the basic beliefs of the major religions. By any objective standard, Islam is a major religion.

The judge refused to dismiss the case, which was the cautious, judicial thing to do. The court noted that the factual record had not yet been developed. Discovery had not taken place. All that was in the file was the complaint, and the district’s Motion to Dismiss.  My prediction is that when that factual record is developed, the court will support the school’s position, which the court describes as follows:

…the students study world religions as part of their academic education in a class called World Cultures and Geography.  That yearlong class, they say, covers many areas of the world, and embraces such subjects as geography, trade, art, social, economic and political structures, and everyday life, as well as religions and religious texts.  Many religions, they say, are covered, but to study them is not to endorse or promote them.  One unit of the class covers the Middle East and North Africa, and materials concerning the Islamic faith, say defendants, are a necessary part of that unit.

My prediction is based on previous cases. We’ve been through this before.  Courts have consistently upheld the authority of schools to decide what should and should not be in the curriculum, despite disapproval from a parent.

The case is Hilsenrath v. School District of the Chathams. The judge’s opinion on the Motion to Dismiss was signed on June 13, 2018 and can be found at 2018 WL 2980392.