A former Marine has sued the Charles County, Md., school district over a world history unit on Islam. Kevin Wood, who served in Iraq and identifies as a Catholic, announced the suit yesterday and is represented by the Thomas More Law Society (TMLS).
In a statement, TMLS attorney Richard Thompson accused the school district of forcing “Wood's daughter to disparage her Christian faith by reciting the Shahada, and acknowledging Mohammed as her spiritual leader.
“Her World History class spent one day on Christianity and two weeks immersed in Islam. Such discriminatory treatment of Christianity is an unconstitutional promotion of one religion over another,” he added.
There are no hard-and-fast rules in life but here’s one that comes close: When the Religious Right says somebody’s been persecuted, there’s almost always more to the story.
Wood’s story might sound familiar. It first entered the annals of urban legend fame in 2014, when far-right websites breathlessly announced that officials at the school system had banned Wood from his daughter’s school. This much is true. Officials at the school in the town of La Plata did indeed obtain a no-trespass order against Wood. But they weren’t acting on orders from the Muslim Brotherhood.
County school officials banned Wood because he threatened to disrupt the school day. The New York Daily News reported at the time that he got into “a heated argument” with the school’s vice principal and announced his intention to cause a “sh*tstorm.” It’s unclear what precisely Wood had planned since he hasn’t commented on the matter, but obviously school officials must take all threats seriously. They told reporters that Wood’s comments aren’t something they “take that lightly.”
“We have a lot of students, and safety comes first. We don’t allow disruptions at the schools, especially if we’re forewarned of them,” said spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson.
Wood also objected to far more than the Shahada. According to his original complaint, his daughter’s teacher assigned a three-page essay on the tenets of the Islamic faith, which include the five pillars of Islam. His story seems to be changing. Wood now claims that the school forced his daughter to copy out the Shahada on worksheets, but the exhibits his attorneys released yesterday don’t prove that this happened.
Wood and his attorneys might have a point if students were asked to copy the Shahada out of context. It is a conversion prayer, after all. But if he really objects to an essay, he doesn’t have much of a case. That specific assignment allows students to present this information in an objective and academic manner as an important tenet of one of the world’s biggest faiths.
It is true that the teacher’s presentation did include a couple of strange, unsupported claims. A Powerpoint presentation asserted that “Muslims’ faith is stronger than the average Christian” and that radical Islamic fundamentalists are opposed to imperialism as well as the Western way of life. There is no evidence at all to support the former claim. The latter claim is a rough approximation of an extraordinarily complex discussion. But there are ways to fix these problems outside of federal court.
Wood’s suit accuses the school district of “promoting Islam over other religions,” and he has precious little evidence to buttress this claim. The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time that the class included instruction on Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism as part of a broad world history curriculum. Despite this, Wood railed to Fox News that public schools won’t teach Christianity, but instead “force-feed our kids Islam.”
It’s unclear why Wood can’t keep his story straight, or why he’s waited nearly two years to sue the school district. Both factors appear to undermine his case.
He seems to have a problem with his child learning anything about Islam in a public school. This is unrealistic. Islam exists. It has roughly 1.6 billion adherents. It’s entirely fair for teachers to include factual, objective information about the faith in a world history course, as long as that information is presented alongside instruction about other world faiths, as well as atheism.
Wood may want his child to remain uninformed about a major world religion. Public schools, however, have the opposite goal: using education to end ignorance.