Tennessee Schools Balk at Records Request on Islam Curriculum


Some of 146 Middle Tennessee school districts have not yet complied with an open records request for content of Islamic curriculum allegedly being taught in public schools, though the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) says it is not "uncommon for a government entity to delay compliance" as schools and Tennesseans continue to debate the issue.

Metro Nashville, Rutherford, Williamson, and Wilson counties are some of the districts which have not complied with the records request after they received a letter showing them the reasons why they did not have to comply in the way the request was presented, according to Andy Humbles of The Tennessean.

A sample letter was sent to the school systems by attorney Chuck Cagle of the Lewis Thomason law firm, who is representing about half the schools, that showed them how to respond to the ACLJ if they desired. Cagle said the request cannot be honored in the same way as it would be for a resident of Tennessee. The letter included the following statements:

"Our client denies your request in full. Among many other defects in your demand, the Tennessee Open Records Act only requires that certain public records be made available for personal inspection by Tennessee citizens. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(B). A public records request made by an agent on behalf of a foreign business entity is invalid. Without waiving numerous other defects in your demand, your request is denied."

The ACLJ is a nonprofit that "advocates and litigates legal, legislative, and cultural issues regarding freedom of religion and free speech." The organization has stated that it received the sample letters sent by the districts.

Cagle said he has not heard of any districts which have complied with the request. Executive counsel of the ACLJ CeCe Heil says the center will continue to request that districts send the records.

Although the ACLJ says the open records request is valid, Cagle states that the request is asking for a volume of information larger than he has seen in his 25 years of practice, and the request could cost the public school system hundreds of thousands of dollars to address.

The time and depth of Islamic-related instruction caught the attention of Tennessee lawmakers and community members in many districts. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candace McQueen, the state's curriculum standards are in place to provide students with an understanding of how the world's religions have affected world history. As a result of the current issues, the state has moved its social studies standards review from 2018 to this January.

The conservative ACLJ has taken its fight for religious freedom to the media via a video campaign, reports WSMV-TV's Hayley Manson.

"Imagine your child or grandchild forced to recite the Islamic conversion creed in school," the voice in the public service announcement said. "It's happening. In Tennessee, public middle school students are being taught to write, ‘Allah is the only God,'" the video said.

A petition put out by the center to stop "Islamic indoctrination in schools" currently has more than 200,000 signatures, but Rashed Fakhruddin, who leads the Islamic Center of Nashville, says that all religions are being taught in Tennessee schools — not just Islam. He noted that learning about the world's religions helps children learn how to understand each other.

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