Kansas school surrenders to ignorance, removes Islam display

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque during the annual hajj or pilgrimage in the holy … Continued


Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque during the annual hajj or pilgrimage in the holy city of Meccaon Oct. 22, 2012, ahead of Eid al-Adha which marks the end of hajj. Completing the hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. (REUTERS)

Back to school means back to the culture wars for Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas.

On the very first day of school, someone snapped a photo of a bulletin board display in the hallway featuring the Five Pillars of Islam and then posted it on Facebook.

“This is a school that banned all forms of Christian prayer,” said the caption under the photo. “This can not stand.”

The Islam display went viral migrating from the “Prepare to Take America Back” page on Facebook to likeminded pages and Web sites. Islamophobia is a cottage industry on the Internet.

School officials were immediately inundated with complaints from gullible and misinformed people who apparently believe the canard that public schools indoctrinate kids in Islam and persecute Christians.

I wish I could report that Minneha administrators faced down the Facebook smears and courageously defended their bulletin board display.

But sadly, the school surrendered to ignorance and fear and removed the Five Pillars of Islam display ostensibly to “alleviate the distraction.”

After caving in, the school issued a statement explaining that the missing display actually had an educational purpose:

“Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are all taught in a historical context of their study of the world to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history.”

As it turns out, a bulletin board in another part of the school features an image of the Last Supper as part of teaching about the religious art of the Renaissance. Other religious images are featured on bulletin boards at other times of the year. These inconvenient facts were left out of the Facebook posting.

Imagine, for a moment, that instead of singling out Islam, someone had posted a photo of the Last Supper display and attacked the school for promoting Christianity. I guarantee that the same “take back America” crowd would have been first in line to defend the right of the school to put up the Christian image.

Minneha administrators and teachers should have stood their ground.

The school’s curriculum, Core Knowledge, is an outstanding and rigorous program of study based on the work of scholar E.D. Hirsch. Among other things, students are introduced to the world’s religions at a young age, learning about basic beliefs, practices, symbols and holidays.

Bulletin boards can and should feature temporary displays about what students are studying in the classroom about religions.

Such teaching about religions is not only constitutional; it is essential for giving students the understanding of the role of religion in history and society necessary for a good education and citizenship in a diverse society.

Moreover, teaching about religions in public schools (as distinguished from religious indoctrination, which is unconstitutional) contributes to understanding across differences and counters the ignorance at the root of the controversy in Wichita.

Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School is doing exactly what public schools are supposed to be doing in teaching about Islam, Christianity and other faiths in ways that are constitutionally and academically sound.

Moreover, public schools including Minneha have not “banned all forms of Christian prayer.” Under current law, students are free to pray alone or in groups during the school day, as long as their prayers don’t disrupt the school or interfere with the rights of others.

Removing the Five Pillars display, of course, doesn’t mean that the school will cease teaching about religions in the classroom (at least I hope not).

The school has indicated that the display might go back up later in the fall when the unit on Islam is being taught. That remains to be seen.

But for now, the suddenly empty space on the bulletin board sends a chilling message to students, parents, and teachers at Minneha and other public schools: Study about religions in a public school no matter how fair and objective can get you into trouble.

When ignorance trumps knowledge, we are all in trouble.

Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington.

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  • leibowde84

    This is a foolish article. Christian images are just as illegal as Islamic images in public schools. Neither should ever be allowed.

  • jarandeh

    “Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are all taught in a historical context of their study of the world to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history.”

    This was a display, not a religious image. You’re against children learning about world religions and their historical context/impact?

    Would you prefer children remain ignorant about the basic nuts and bolts of ideologies that have a profound impact on geopolitics?

  • Katie53

    Unfortunately, jarandeh, the answer is “yes”. Ignorance is bliss for such people.

  • leibowde84

    I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all, as long as with it on the wall were a list of the basic tenants of all the other major religions. That would promote the idea that all religions are equal. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t like any child getting the idea that their public school or country is affiliated in any way with any specific religion.

  • leibowde84

    And, I’m sorry, but if I saw a poster with the Apostles Creed on it hanging in the halls of a public school, I would be equally outraged. sure, these are appropriate in a textbook, but putting up posters seems like it is out of line.

  • tombukowski

    It’s terrible being a persecuted Chritian in this country, isn’t it? But, hey, it’s Kansas.

  • eliasbwick

    Leibowde. The point is how misinformation can separate communities. If you get a chance please go to comments under the facebook post. If a Muslim person would read the vitriol, they probably would feel no different than the Jews did in 1940 in Germany. In this day and age, where we all need to make extra effort to reach out, people with an agenda are just using gullible people increase the animosity between communities and neighborhoods.

  • Catken1

    Well, the other major religions are covered in their own segments as well. Just because they’re not all up at the same time doesn’t mean they’re not all treated equally.

  • Catken1

    Plus, historical and sociocultural study of religion as a force in human society is entirely appropriate for public schools, and does not in fact require endorsement of the religion being taught.

  • Search4Truth

    Keep religions out of public schools. Want to learn about one? Send your children to a private school that teaches the religion of your choice. Better yet. Teach your children YOURSELF!

  • Samoset

    Jehovah Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays.

    Thanksgiving is taught as a historical event .. not a holiday .. with an emphasis on why the Pilgrims came ..

    Freedom of Religion … something the Jehovah Witnesses value …

  • Don Davenport

    I’m all for the teaching of Islam in public schools as long as the lessons are not some sanitized, politically correct version which of course they are. The hatred and intolerance and of Islamic texts directed at non-believers are responsible for apartheid, death, destruction and misery throughout the centuries and this hateful and intolerant ideology should be exposed to the full. Of course in today’s politically correct western societies the truth is hated most and those who dare to speak it are hated even more.

  • Catken1

    OK, and can we also have an expose of the hatred and intolerance taught by the Bible for non-Christians, and a discussion of all the cruelties and oppressive brutality and wars fought in the name of Christianity?
    Oh, right, Christians are a widespread and diverse group, and should not be judged by their worst members. It’s OK, on the other hand, to judge all Muslims by the nastiest fringe, never mind that there are millions of good, decent, peaceful Muslims out there just trying to live their lives. Christians are “us,” and should be treated as individual human beings – Muslims are “them” and it’s OK to treat them like a faceless mass of “others”.
    The only real difference between Christianity and Islam today is that most majority-Christian countries are not actually governed by Christianity, but by a post-Enlightenment secular worldview with freedom of religion for all. When Christians ran countries, and where they still do, they are every bit as cruel, vicious and warlike as Muslim-dominated countries. The vast majority of theocracies, of every stripe, are.

  • Catken1

    Religion as a factor in history and sociology is an important topic, and should not be neglected in anyone’s education. And I speak as an agnostic humanist with a deep commitment to separation of church and state.
    Proselytization should never be allowed in public schools, but comparative religion is a perfectly legitimate topic. There is a difference.

  • csintala79

    It is interesting that fundamentalist Christians seem to be in favor of returning Egypt to a secular state. It seems that they are not diametrically opposed to the separation of church and state. Perhaps with a little thought they will reach the conclusion that the division should apply to all religions, including their own. All exclusivist religions, those that think the only road to God is through their belief system, are intrinsically intolerant.

  • csintala79

    Catken1, I agree. Regardless of one’s personal thoughts regarding religion, history cannot be taught without addressing all factors involved in the evolution of society. Maddening as it may be, religion is the focal point for the history of the West and the world. For example, how can the period of history during which Henry VIII reigned exclude his conflict with the Papacy? To address this bit of history requires some understanding of the belief system of Christianity and the contemporary revolt to reform it. How can the Ottoman Turks, Empire be understood by excluding a study of Islam?

  • csintala79

    No problem is too irrelevant or unrelated to his tenure in office to keep them from blaming him. Only one characteristic of Obama can explain the blind, irrational hatred directed at him. They are even now gearing up for the possibility of Cory Booker running for the office by claiming he is just like Obama; in what respect would that be? Booker has more than acquired enough management experience as mayor of Newark to deflect the claim leveled at Obama that he had none; so how is he like Obama? Come on, that isn’t a hard question.

  • csintala79

    It is just like Drudge’s misleading headlines that do not reflect the articles context. He hopes that most visiting his site will go no further than this blurb.

  • csintala79

    Persecuted Christians? This is like a member of a mob beating up a poor soul claiming the victim is a violent predator if he tries to fight back. They see restricting their persecution of non-bleivers as them being persecuted.

  • csintala79

    They also don’t violate the First Commandment by not accepting the concept of the Trinity.