A Tennessee mother is arguing that her family’s “personal religious beliefs were violated” because her daughter was expected to learn historical and objective information about Islam as a part of her social studies curriculum in a public school.
The Kingsport Times News reports that Michelle Edmisten attended a school board meeting in Sullivan County on Monday and gloated that her daughter refused to complete Islam-related social studies assignments. She added that the zeros that resulted were “zeroes that we proudly took and we will not compromise.”
Here’s what Edmisten doesn’t seem to understand: Yes, public schools can’t sponsor a religion or promote worship, but students can learn about religion. The school wasn’t adopting Islam; it was just teaching history. The rise of Islam as a major religion had a profound effect on the history of the world. We can’t airbrush that just because so many people in the Religious Right are islamophobic.
The school board reiterated this, saying that Tennessee’s social studies standards require that students be taught about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism in 6th grade and Islam in 7th grade. Edmisten seems to have a problem with only one of those religions.
In an attempt to explain her reasoning for keeping kids from learning even objective information about Islam, Edmisten offered this gem: “It is time as parents, teachers and administrators we stand up and take back our families, our schools and our country.”
So an attempt to give young people factual information about religion somehow means we’re turning that nation over to something or someone else? And that we have to take it back?
This is where students should expand their knowledge, not reject it.
Edmisten’s logic got worse as she continued ranting.
“I would like to see parents, Christians, veterans, anyone that’s anyone, stand up for this fight,” she said. “How can I, as a Christian, say that I have these values? And I want to instill these values in my daughter, but then say it’s okay, go ahead and do it.”
She says “parents” as if there’s no chance her daughter has Muslim classmates. She says “veterans” as if there aren’t Muslim veterans (and war heroes). She hilariously says “anyone that’s anyone” when almost every aspect of her complaint hinges on Religious Right logic. (And, according to the Huffington Post, she was the only parent to speak about this.)
Learning about world religions and how they shaped our history does not “instill” those faiths into anybody. Teachers and textbooks are not missionaries. This type of instruction serves to make you a more educated, reasonable person. Education can break down the barrier of fear. It can help us not be “phobic” of things we couldn’t previously understand.
Many people who don’t share religious values, or even reject faith entirely, still take the time to educate themselves on various religions. They do this because that knowledge gives them the power to better understand the world around them. This helps them not look at their neighbors with suspicion and hold prejudices because of ignorance.
Edmisten is arguing for freedom, of a kind. But it’s not religious freedom she wants for her child. It’s the freedom to be uneducated.
PS: This sorry incident is yet another example of the way many people these days are twisting the very definition of religious freedom into something that harms others (in this case by fostering ignorance). Americans United wants Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to answer a question about the meaning of religious freedom during Sunday’s debate. You can help us get this question asked by voting for it here.