The Olmsted Falls City School District, located in Olmsted Falls, Ohio has agreed to remove the video “30 Days: Muslim and America” from the 7th grade World History Curriculum. The action was taken to avoid a constitutional challenge by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which filed a series of requests for public records concerning the video on behalf of Jenny McKeigue, a mother of three children who attend schools within the district.
McKeigue first became concerned about the history curriculum in 2011 when her son, then in 7th grade, was required to memorize the 5 Pillars of Islam (the requirement was later discontinued). After a deeper look into the 7th grade history curriculum, McKeigue became concerned about the content of the “Muslims and America” video to which the school had exposed her son. She asked the School District to remove the video from the curriculum and replace it with an objective video relevant to the history of Islam, not one that taught children how to become a Muslim. Her request was denied. Subsequently, Mrs. McKeigue began the escalation process to the Superintendent and the School Board.
After over a year and a half of denied requests for information, including requests for the class syllabus, from the School District, McKeigue reached out to the Thomas More Law Center for assistance. TMLC agreed to help. Ohio attorney Michael S. Goldstein acted as an affiliated local counsel.
The questionable video features a Christian (Dave) agreeing to embrace the religion of Islam and the Muslim culture by living with a Muslim family for 30 days in Dearborn, Michigan. Dave was required to live, dress and eat as a Muslim, study the Koran daily and participate in Muslim prayer. The video features several instances of Muslim prayer and even a look at a “how to pray in Islam” sheet complete with Dave practicing how to pray and reciting lines such as “I testify that there is no God other than the Almighty” and “I testify that Mohammad is the messenger of God.”
The video is also set up in a manner that portrays non-Muslims as uneducated bigots and Muslims as persecuted victims. At one point in the video, 7th grade students are told that if they hear someone say something wrong about Islam, it is their responsibility to fix it.
The video was being used as a part of the Ohio 7th Grade Social Studies Standards Expectations for Learning which requires students to “describe achievements by the Islamic civilization and how these achievements were introduced into Western Europe in the time period between 750 BC – 1600AD.” As such, “Muslims and America” is clearly irrelevant to Ohio Social Studies Standards.
Mrs. McKeigue felt the video, in addition to being irrelevant, also violated several Board Policies with regard to the promotion of religion in the classroom and the fair representation of all ethnic and religious groups. Additionally, she questioned the accuracy of the video as well as the applied double standard as no other video was shown nor instruction given demonstrating how to perform the religious exercises of other religions.
In response to McKeigue’s criticism, the school district invited Olmsted Falls pastors to review the video. To the school district’s chagrin, several pastors agreed with McKeigue and also questioned the accuracy of the video. Dr. Todd Hoadley, school superintendent at the time, disregarded their concerns. At a March 2013 Board meeting, and in private conversations, he defended the video with the astonishing argument that the inaccuracies of the video proved its value.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the TMLC, commented: “Teachers may not constitutionally show video tapes that violate the neutrality they must maintain toward religion or that engages in religious instruction. Showing “Muslims and America” violated those principles and the Establishment Clause of our Constitution. Under the guise of teaching the history of Islam to seventh graders, history teachers were proselytizing students to the Islamic faith. Although I applaud the school district for resolving this issue without litigation, I was disappointed to discover internal communications from one history teacher ridiculing and disparaging Mrs. McKeigue, and even suggesting she should be fired from her part time job as alumni director for the school because of her criticism of the video.”
Thompson continued, “Teachers may provide instruction about a particular religion, but they are not constitutionally permitted to provide religious instruction. The education of our children is too important to be left to teachers and school administrators alone. Parents have a duty to be personally involved as well. Mrs. McKeigue was exercising her constitutional right to free speech in fulfilling her crucial duty and responsibility as a parent.”