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State lawmaker Butting in to school curriculum

Editorial Board • Updated Oct 21, 2015 at 11:06 AM

Imagine an elementary classroom in Tennessee where students are learning about the Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom, but are told they’ll have to wait until high school for further details. That’s how State Rep. Sheila Butt wants it.

Ms. Butt has sponsored a bill that prevents students from learning anything about American history or any other subject where religious doctrine is involved. And of course, American history cannot be adequately taught, otherwise.

So why is a state lawmaker attempting to dictate what will be taught and when, in the public schools? The answer is Islamophobia, particularly the claim that children are being indoctrinated in Islam. Fueling this notion is televangelist Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, which claims "Islamic indoctrination is happening in public schools all across America."

State education officials and teachers say the curriculum is appropriate and based on secular facts, but to some, even the mention of Islam is indoctrinating.

Ms. Butt, for instance assumes much: "I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not ageappropriate. They are not able to discern a lot of times whether it’s indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches."

And because she knows what’s occurring in the state’s classrooms better than teachers and principals and superintendents, she has introduced a bill requiring the State Board of Education to "not include religious doctrine in any curriculum standards for grades prior to tenth grade" and where there is even a reference to any religion, to ensure that it "does not amount to teaching any form of religion."

This mandate is ridiculous. The state board cannot dictate every word spoken much less review every word in every textbook in every classroom in every school of the state. Perhaps Ms. Butt could set up a system where whistle-blowers are rewarded for fingering teachers who utter any mention of Islam.

Always the diplomat, Gov. Bill Haslam is "raising questions" about the bill, that it could have unintended consequences. "I don’t know how you talk about the founding of America, and what became of the United States, without talking about religious doctrine," Haslam said. "Now, that’s very different than indoctrinating, or teaching that doctrine as truth."

Hopefully, the Tennessee General Assembly will dispose of this bill. If there are Islamic boogeymen under the bed, Ms. Butt and company should prove it.

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