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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