In 1962 the New York State Regents passed a policy to “combat the decline of morals in public life” that called for “moral and spiritual training” as a part of the school day. The Regents introduced a generic prayer to be said by students in the public school as a part of the morning activities. The prayer recites: “
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
This prayer drew criticism from the ACLU, and was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1963 by a 7-1 ruling. Personally, I agree with the ruling, as it was in my opinion unduly entangling the secular with the relgious world. On the other hand, here we are many years later with this “generic” prayer ditched and on the verge of being replaced with Muslim prayers.
MUSLIM PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN NEW YORK
New York City is about to open a new taxpayer funded “Arabic themed” school in Brooklyn. Khalil Gibran International Academy will be led by Debbie Almontaser a Muslim of Yemeni background. “It is a school that is going to be working quite hard in building bridges of understanding, tolerance and acceptance, valuing diversity and truly just developing students into global citizens,” says Almontaser. While some of this sounds good, this school will go a good deal further than those arguably, altruistic goals.
The New York City school’s goal is to focus on Arabic aka Islamic themes in education and eventually to teach half of the classes in the Arabic language. Isn’t it interesting that just recently Oxford University in London, England decided not to teach certain subjects like the Holocaust or the Crusades in the school’s history classes because they might offend some of the Muslim students. Yet, in America tax payers are at the very least facilitating a religion.
A valid question that many have asked if the Muslim religion could be separated from the school. In response to that question Almonstaser said,
“Being that we are a public school, we certainly are not going to be teaching religion.”
Maybe not but they will be facilitating it. I also wonder if the Islamic mandates of prayer, not voluntary mind you, will be enforced or will be disallowed. Will accomodations be made during Ramadan. All of these sound precariously close to an “undue entanglement” of the state with a “particular religion”, and all of this would be unconstitutional.
In Lemon v Kurtzman,403 U.S. 602 (1971) the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Pennsylvania’s 1968 Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which allowed the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to reimburse nonpublic schools (most of which were Catholic) for teachers’ salaries, textbooks and instructional materials, violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. The decision also upheld a decision of the First Circuit, which had struck down the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act providing state funds to supplement salaries at nonpublic elementary schools by 15%. As in Pennsylvania, most of these funds were spent on Catholic schools. The following guidelines were established, and these are the Law of the US.
1. The government’s action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive entanglement” with religion.
On the face this school would seem to be in patent violation of the third and possibly the third prong of “The Lemon Test”.
There are other instances of the state becoming “excessively entangled” in facilitating Islamic needs. Consider the policy of Minneapolis Community Colleges. The colleges have installed facilities to enable Muslim students to perform ritual feet washing before daily prayers at the college. Muslims are required to pray five times a day but must first wash their feet. According to President Phil Davis the school is simply extending “hospitality” to their newcomers. However, are such “hospitable” extentions afforded to Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or other practitioners of a relgious faith. This practice would seem to be in violation of all prongs of the lemon test.
The question is why are public institution policies so correctly careful to not estabish or facilitate Christianity and Judaism, but are bending over backwards for Islam. I make no secret that I am a practioner of Christianity, however, I am not thrilled with public dollars being spent facilitating and advancing any religion unless there is a clear and legitimate secular purpose being served. These two instances don’t come close to meeting that standard.