Tennessee bill would ban teaching kids about Islam in middle school

It wasn’t too long ago that Republicans in the Tennessee House of Representatives tried to make the Bible the official state book. Now, those same Republicans are worried about religious indoctrination, and want to make sure that its schoolteachers aren’t turning their kids into Muslims.

From ThinkProgress:

Rep. Sheila Butt’s proposed bill comes at a time when anti-Islamic sentiment has been surfacing at schools across the country. If enacted, the bill would ban schools from teaching students younger than 10th grade about Islam or other topics the state decides constitute “religious doctrine.”

“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate,” Butt, who claims her bill isn’t targeted at Islam, told the Tennessean. “They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.”

Muslim man via Shutterstock

Muslim man via Shutterstock

The “they” in that sentence may apply more to parents, not children. It was only just over a week ago that a Florida mom freaked out on Facebook over her high schooler’s textbook including an explainer on how the Islamic world developed Arabic numerals. You know, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

One could take episodes like that one to argue that we should be learning more about Islamic traditions, not less. Alternatively, one could take Tennessee Republicans’ complete and utter fear of all things Muslim to argue the same. You don’t overcome your fears by covering your ears with your hands and screaming “nanananananacan’thearyou!” If you want to prevent something, it’s best to know what that something is.

That aside, I’d be willing to bet my laptop that Rep. Sheila Butt has no. problem. whatsoever. teaching “religious doctrine” in school, particularly in science class. You know how I know? She co-sponsored a bill in 2012 that effectively forces Tennessee schools to do exactly that. That law requires state and local officials to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” In other words, it requires Tennessee schools to lend credence to religious doctrine in science class by claiming that evolution and the universe’s origins are matters of scientific controversy. They aren’t, and the people who think otherwise are people who consider the Bible a textbook.

As ThinkProgress continues, “Butt claims it would not be difficult for the state to discern the difference between teaching religion and teaching religious doctrine,” which is true. Here, let me try: Teaching students about what the tenets of Islam are is teaching religion; teaching students that evolution is probably wrong because God says so is teaching religious doctrine.

And should be illegal in public school.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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12 Responses to “Tennessee bill would ban teaching kids about Islam in middle school”

  1. Sheep O'Doom says:

    Define “pre science” as science was “discovered” from day one.

  2. Sheep O'Doom says:

    What? Fantasizing about naked 90 yr old Nuns?

  3. Sheep O'Doom says:

    You can’t teach someone to fear & hate something if they know what that something is all about.

  4. BeccaM says:

    We’re talking about Christian privilege again, aren’t we? Where they insist there’s nothing at all wrong with requiring Christian prayers and Christian Bible-based teachings (even when they are at odds with modern scientific discoveries). To them, this isn’t ‘religious indoctrination.’

    But merely learning what other people believe and some of the basic concepts around their religion — such as, for example, learning that Muslims revere Jesus as a great prophet (even though they don’t go for the ‘Son of God’ part) — this is ‘religious indoctrination’ inappropriate for 9th graders and younger.

    As ever, I marvel at how incredibly fragile Christian fundamentalist beliefs must be.

  5. MoonDragon says:

    Well, I learned about Bacchanalia from a Saturday afternoon sword and sandals movie. We didn’t start celebrating it until the summer between 9th and 10th grade, so I didn’t make the connection back to Mrs. S. See you in whatever level.

  6. 2karmanot says:

    “To my knowledge, no one went out and celebrated Mania, Saturnalia, or prepared for Ragnarok.” Well, my experience was quite different. When Sister Mary Five Wounds taught all the above, she also included Bacchanalia as a warning lesson, which of course set me on a path of mortal sin that still delights me to this day.

  7. nicho says:

    And to tell the truth, the bliss didn’t sound that blissful. Even as a kid, I remember thinking that it sounded like spending all eternity in church — looking at God and singing “Alleluia” forever and ever and ever.

  8. emjayay says:

    Not just metaphors, but versions of stories attempting to explain reality known in various cultures for thousands of years. All pre-science cultures have stories told around the campfire for thousands of years attempting to explain creation and human history. Before, you know, anyone had any understanding whatsoever of any of it.

  9. emjayay says:

    Me too. But the idea was they were OK as long as they hadn’t rejected the One True Church. As long as they hadn’t been exposed, they could maybe get in.

    A really weird thing about Christianity in general is the idea that in an afterlife you either get eternal bliss or eternal indescribable pain.

  10. nicho says:

    I sent to Catholic school in the ’50s. The nuns taught us about other religions (of course, they were all going to burn in hell) and they also taught us about evolution. They weren’t opposed to it. They said it was God’s method of creation. Kind of a nice middle ground for those times. You’d never hear that today.

  11. iamlegion says:

    Ahhh… doesn’t this also outlaw traditional Sunday School? Or any kind on non-secular schooling for pre-teens? I mean, I realize it’s only _intended_ to prohibit teaching children anything about them dirty moozlims, but to avoid that blatantly unconstitutional image, have they worded this so broadly that it applies to good, Ghod-fearing Christian folk too?

  12. MoonDragon says:

    Somewhere in grade 7 or 8, Mrs. Sikora, our history teacher, taught us about the Greek, Roman, and Norse gods. To my knowledge, no one went out and celebrated Mania, Saturnalia, or prepared for Ragnarok. In 9th grade, Mr. McFarland introduce us to the concepts of Hinduism in World Cultures class. No one went on to strangle people with sacred cords in honor of Kali. Long before I started formal Catechism classes in third grade (when our local church finally rounded up enough money to build a building and enough volunteers to mangle the

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