Muslim lesson didn’t violate students’ rights, court says

S.F. judges uphold decision on Contra Costa County case

SAN FRANCISCO — Christian students and parents cannot sue a school district where some seventh-graders pretended to be Muslims for three weeks during a course in world history, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the role-playing game was not a religious exercise that violated anybody’s constitutional rights.

The decision was issued one day after the U.S. House of Representatives chastised the 9th Circuit for ruling earlier this month that parents can’t sue public schools for providing information about sex. That decision “deplorably infringed on parental rights,” said the House resolution.

Thursday’s decision came down in an unpublished memorandum, indicating the judges considered it routine.

They reviewed the method used by one teacher in Byron, Contra Costa County, four years ago to teach the unit on Muslim history, culture and religion that is part of the state’s seventh-grade history curriculum.

Brooke Carlin encouraged her students to play at being Muslims — adopt Muslim names, recite a line from a prayer and give up candy or television to simulate fasting, for example. Students were permitted to opt out. On the final exam they were asked to critique elements of Muslim culture.

Jonas and Tiffany Eklund sued, along with their children.

San Francisco U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton dismissed the suit two years ago, saying Carlin was merely teaching and not indoctrinating. Hamilton found that the students did not engage in actual religious exercises.

The 9th Circuit upheld her decision in a five-sentence ruling, saying only that the activities weren’t “overt religious exercises” that would raise concerns under the First Amendment prohibition of “establishment of religion.”

Senior Circuit Judge Dorothy Nelson of Pasadena and Circuit Judges Johnnie Rawlinson of Las Vegas and Carlos Bea of SanFrancisco signed the decision.

The unpublished memo format indicates the appellate judges did not believe they were breaking legal ground. Unpublished decisions cannot be cited in future cases.

But Edward White, who represents the Eklunds on behalf of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., called the ruling “an opinion without any precedent.”

He said the judges overlooked arguments he made about parental rights and freedom to exercise the religion one chooses.

He said a rehearing before either the same panel or a larger one will be requested.

Linda Lye, who represented the defendants, said she was “delighted the school district got this matter behind it” and could “move on with the business of educating children.” Carlin’s teaching method was within the mainstream of educational practice, she said.

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The Sacramento Bee, via, USA
Nov. 19, 2005
Claire Cooper

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 19, 2005.
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