If a new bill is passed, Tennessee public schools will not be allowed to include anything that connotes "religious doctrine" unless the course is taught in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade.
Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) is the author of the bill, which appeared after parents in several districts complained about their children studying Islam in middle school. The Tennessean's Dave Boucher writes that Butt believes what is being taught is not "age-appropriate." Children, she added, often cannot distinguish between indoctrination and learning about what a religion teaches. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) says the teachings "border on indoctrination."
But Tennessee educators and officials disagree, arguing that the courses are appropriate and based on secular fact. The information given to students is used to provide historical context about how the world's religions influence global regions and peoples.
"The reality is the Muslim world brought us algebra, âOne Thousand and One Nights,' and some can argue it helped bring about the Renaissance," Metro Nashville Public Schools social studies teacher Kyle Alexander recently told The Tennessean. "There is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history."
Butt explained that the bill says if a religion is mentioned in the middle school grades, the state board of education must make sure "the reference does not amount to teaching any form of religious doctrine to the students." Butt does not think the line between teaching religious doctrine and mentioning a religion is blurry, and she also mentioned that middle school students were not able to assess or analyze information about religion in the same manner as high school students.
"Junior high is not the time that children are doing the most analysis," Butt said. "Insecurity is in junior high a lot of times, and students are not able to differentiate a lot of things they are taught."
Tennessee law says the Bible may be used in class as long as the teaching does not include "teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions." Butt's bill says the teaching of "comparative religion" in high school must not focus on one religion more than another.
The Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights entity in the US, has called on public officials to protect their rights after one of the state's sheriffs said he would encourage other Tennessee sheriffs to "monitor Muslims in their jurisdictions." Jim Hammond, the sheriff responsible for the statement, says that Muslims are planning to "take over" the state and that "Islam is communism with a god," writes Kira Lerner for Think Progress.
Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candace McQueen says the state is about to expedite its social studies standards review process, reports The Tennessean.
"The intent of the specific social studies standards in question is to focus on building students' cultural competence and instilling a deep understanding of how world religions impact world history," McQueen said in a recent statement.
Last month, parents in Nashville said they were alarmed that taxpayer money was funding the teaching of the Five Pillars of Islam in world history class, while at the same time, according to the parents, ignoring the teaching of Christianity.
Eric Owens, reporting for The Daily Caller, says Maury County Public Schools middle school supervisor Jan Hanvey told The Daily Herald, a Columbia, TN newspaper, that the teaching of the Five Pillars of Islam is a one-day segment of the seventh-grade curriculum. Buddhism and Hinduism are also studied. Christianity is addressed in eighth grade when the "Age of Exploration" teaches about Christians persecuting other Christians in some Western European countries.