Did the teacher require the student to profess belief in Islam?

The answer to that question is no. The teacher did not do that.  That may be why the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Wood v. Arnold, thus leaving in effect the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the teacher had really required a student to express personal belief in Islam (or any other religion) SCOTUS probably would have taken up the matter. But that’s not at all what happened.

What happened was that an 11th grade world history class spent a week on “The Muslim World.”  The curriculum called for a study of the “formation of Middle Eastern empires including the basic concepts of the Islamic faith and how it along with politics, culture, economics, and geography contributed to the development of those empires.” 

There was one worksheet designed to test the student’s understanding of the Five Pillars of Islam.   The worksheet said:

There is no god but _____ and Muhammad is the _______________. 

The correct answers to be filled in were “Allah” and “messenger.”  The plaintiffs argued that this worksheet effectively required the student to profess belief in Islam.

Nope.  The worksheet was simply designed to give the student the opportunity to demonstrate that she had studied the material and knew a little something about one of the world’s major religions. 

The 4th Circuit wisely pointed out how dangerous it is to take single statements out of context, particularly in a school curriculum:

Manifestly, if courts were to find an Establishment Clause violation every time a student or parent thought that a single statement by a teacher either advanced or disapproved of a religion, instruction in our public schools “would be reduced to the lowest common denominator.”  Such a focus on isolated statements effectively would transform each student, parent, and by extension, the courts into de facto “curriculum review committees” monitoring every sentence for a constitutional violation.

High school graduates should know something about our major religions and how they have influenced our society and culture.  How can you understand today’s news without some foundational understanding of religion?  How can you understand history?  The civil rights movement in our country?  Martin Luther King? 

This lawsuit was promoting ignorance in the guise of upholding our constitutional values.  This lawsuit was not only against the school district where the world history class took place—it also named as defendants the principal and assistant principal.  What is that about?  The suit was supported by a non-profit advocacy group: The Thomas More Society.   Those lawyers should know better.  This case goes on the Sheesh-O-Meter.  The case of Wood v. Arnold was decided by the 4th Circuit on February 11, 2019. We found it at 915 F.3d 308. 


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!! Whose voice counts the most in an MDR?