Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Educational Choice

An Islamic charter school has been operating in Minnesota under Islamic auspices. According to an article by columnist Katharine Kersten(linked above), the school has violated federal law for the unpardonable sin of school sponsored prayer.
Because of the somewhat insular character of the population served by the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), the state of Minnesota has never been able to prove charges that the wall of separation between church and state (sacred to many) had been destroyed by a group of Muslim fundamentalists.
According to Ms. Kersten, the Islamic Identity of the school is thinly disguised.It is located in the headquarters of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose stated mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota".
The secrecy surrounding the forbidden practice of prayer on the public dime was exposed by a substitute teacher who according to the article assisted in escorting small groups of students to the bathroom for the ritual hand washing that preceeds Islamic prayers. She noted that the public assembly which followed was completely compulsory, as were the prayer that took place according to Islamic custom.
She observed Koranic verses being integrated into the list of homework that also covered secular subjects as well.
The school day ended with an additional prayer service.
The state of Minnesota inspects schools not only for their physical and educational fitness but also for their adherence to church-state separation. Since no one complained about the apparent violation, the state of Minnesota made no special effort to catch children praying.
America has freely acknowledged the folly of Prohibition, in which alcohol consumption and importation was constitutionally banned from 1917 to 1933. Speakeasies flourished, as did the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages, fueling the rise of crime syndicates all across America.
The students of TIZA Academy were not adults secretly imbibing alcohol. They were children praying.If they were indeed violating the law, it was a foolish law with a checkered history.
The Blaine Amendment was passed in the House of Representatives in 1875 but fell four votes short of a two thirds majority in the Senate, which was needed for it to be presented to the state legislatures as an amendment to the constitution.
The amendment states as follows: "No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations."
All but eleven states passed their own Blaine Amendments, forming a cornerstone in the wall of church state separation as we know it.
The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of massive immigration. More established immigrants from primarily Protestant northern Europe joined many born in America in their fear of and distaste for Irish and Southern European immigrants who were predominantly Roman Catholic. The social strictures against public expressions of bigotry were far more weak in the 1800's than today. It was overt bigotry that often fueled public support for the Blaine amendment, which was intended by many to be aimed at Catholic schools established for the children of Irish immigrants. This ill conceived law has come to haunt the descendants of those who advocate it as Christian schools all across America are barred from receiving public monies in support of their operation.
It is time for America to admit its mistake in passing the Blaine Amendment in one state after another. There are not only Muslims but Jews and Christians as well who struggle to pay for private school tuition so their children can be taught according to the principles of their respective homes. It is time for America to repudiate this amendment, written in a mood of xenophobia and bigotry. It is time to repeal this amendment, which is nothing more than a punitive tariff upon the transmission of religious belief.
There were immigrant criminal syndicates that fueled public prejudice throughout America's history. The victims of these criminal gangs were most often of the same nationality as the gangs themselves. We must not let our fear of terrorists who use the name of Islam to besmirch the good name of Muslims who only want to pray according to their tradition.
My father and his family, although Jewish were subject to restrictions on their liberty by the U.S. government because they were German immigrants. My father, who was loyal and grateful to this country, could not own a short wave because of security regulations in place at the time. Italian immigrants suffered similar limitations. The actual internment of the Japanese is well known. I fully understand the need for the U.S. government to have placed some restrictions on my family. His experiences with being an immigrant from a country at war with America give me a context within which I can empathise with Muslim immigrants today.
Our need to monitor immigrant communities for law enforcement and security purposes should be understood. But this should of course be separate from our discussion of Islamic schools.
I hope that the TIZA Academy is allowed to continue to function as it has until now. I hope it fuels a debate about the establishment clause and its proper interpretation. If Muslims want to fight the bigoted Blaine amendment, then there are of Christians and Jews across America who are already trying to redress this historic injustice.
Here is one Jew who supports the parents and students of the TIZA school.

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