William Perry Pendley
On June 1, a California husband and wife filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In Eklund v. Byron Union School District, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld a federal district court’s rejection of two families’ claim that their children’s school violated the Establishment Clause when it taught them how to “become Muslims.” In a short unpublished opinion, the three-judge panel affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Later, the entire Ninth Circuit declined to rehear the case.

In 2001, Excelsior Middle School in Byron, 40 miles east of San Francisco, advised a classroom of twelve-year olds that, “[for the next three weeks], you and your classmates will become Muslims.” Thereafter, the students memorized portions of the Koran, chose Islamic names, wore tags bearing their new Islamic names alongside the Star and Crescent Moon—the symbol of Muslims, completed the Five Pillars of Faith, and recited Muslim prayers. Ironically, the teacher’s edition of the course textbook warned: “Recreating religious practices or ceremonies through role playing activities should not take place in a public school classroom.”

In June 2002, the families, represented by the Thomas More Law Center, sued saying that teaching Islam in the Excelsior public school violated the U.S. Constitution, which mandates government neutrality regarding religion. In particular, the school district’s actions fail every Supreme Court test; they: lack a secular purpose; primarily advance religion; excessively entangle government with religion; endorse a particular religious belief; and coerce students to participate in religion. Nonetheless, a California federal district court judge appointed by Clinton ruled the course lacked "any devotional or religious intent" and was only educational. Notwithstanding a double standard between how the district court treated Islam and how federal courts have treated other religions in the classroom, the Ninth Circuit agreed.

William Perry Pendley

William Perry Pendley is President and Chief Legal Officer at the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

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