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March 17, 2016

Tennessee Legislation Supports Church-State Separation in Public Schools

Tennessee’s state legislature is not known for moving forward legislation strengthening the wall separating church and state.  But earlier this week that is precisely what it did by passing a bill that mandates constitutional safeguards in teaching about religion in public schools.

In recent years, the state legislature has enacted multiple bills that promote majority religious views and undermine the separation principle: a bill designating the Holy Bible as the official state book; backdoor school prayer legislation; a measure requiring post-secondary schools to support student clubs that exclude members based on religion; and a so-called “Academic Freedom Act,” which opens the door to teaching intelligent design – a form of creationism – in the public schools.

Flag_of_the_General_Assembly_of_Tennessee.svg

Based on this history, the passage of House Bill 1905, “An act relative to … the inclusion of religion in instruction and curriculum,” at first glance seems inconsistent and surprising.  The impetus for the bill, however, mitigates that inconsistency.  It was filed in response to claims that a middle school social studies curriculum crossed the constitutional line between teaching about and indoctrinating Islam.  No similar claims were made about the course’s coverage of other faiths including, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Daoism, and African religions.

Despite the questionable motivation behind the bill, on paper it is beneficial.  It codifies longstanding constitutional standards  by stating that “[t]he inclusion of religion in textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, or academic standards shall be for educational purposes only and shall not be used to promote or establish any religion or religious belief.”  Most significantly, it requires “[t]eacher training institutions” to provide candidates with instruction and strategies on how to teach about religion in a constitutionally permissible manner.

Our nation’s public schools are for all children regardless of their faith.  In theory, HB 1905’s safeguards should make Tennessee public schools more welcoming and inclusive.  However, in light of the state legislature’s history and the reasons behind this bill, ADL has concerns that its protections will only be applied in teaching about minority faiths.

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December 18, 2015

ADL Reports at Least 75 Anti-Muslim Incidents In US Since Paris Attacks

Fol­low­ing the shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and 22 injured, there has been a continued escalation in hos­til­ity and attacks throughout the U.S. against the Mus­lim com­mu­nity and those perceived as Muslim.

Islamic Center of Alameda's boarded up window, after it was shattered by a brick

Islamic Center of Alameda’s boarded up window, after it was shattered by a brick (CBS)

Since the San Bernardino shooting on December 2, at least 27 anti-Muslim incidents have been reported in the U.S., raising the total number of incidents since the November 13 Paris attacks to at least 75.Between the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting, ADL tracked approximately 48 anti-Muslim incidents. These numbers are based on reports ADL has collected from media and other sources.

Incidents such as assaults, vandalism, and threats targeting Muslim individuals and institutions in the U.S. tend to noticeably spike in the aftermath of terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremists in the U.S or abroad.

Below are selected examples of alleged anti-Muslim incidents in the weeks following the San Bernardino attacks, both criminal and non-criminal:

Assaults

  • Grand Rapids, Michigan: Aman holding up a convenience store reportedly called the Sikh manager a “terrorist” and suggested he was a member of ISIS before shooting him in the face. (December 12)
  • Queens, New York: A man beat a Muslim store owner in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. The attacker reportedly stated, “I kill Muslims.” (December 5)

Vandalism

  • Hawthorne, California: “Jesus” graffiti and a fake hand grenade were left at two mosques. (December 12)
  • Alameda, California: A brick was thrown through a mosque’s window, shattering the window. (December 10)
  • Palm Beach, Florida: The Islamic Center of Palm Beach was vandalized, its windows smashed and furniture overturned. (December 3)

Threats and Intimidation

  • Cullman, Alabama: KKK fliers try to recruit Alabamans to stop “the spread of Islam.” (December 10)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A severed pig’s head was thrown at a mosque’s door. (December 7)
  • Vandalia, Ohio: A 7th grader threatened to shoot and kill a 6th grade Muslim schoolmate, reportedly calling him a “terrorist,” a “towel head,” and a “son of ISIS.” (December 7)
  • St. Louis, Missouri: A threatening voicemail was left at the Islamic Center of St. Louis. The message reportedly stated “I was a Marine, I killed a lot of Muslims, watched a lot of you die and burn…You want to kill? Come my way. I will cut your f-cking head off.” (December 5)
  • Fredericksburg, Virginia: In advance of a public hearing about a new mosque, anti-Muslim fliers were posted around town that read “No Jihad in Fredericksburg.” (December 5)

 

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April 27, 2015

Members of Congress Invite Anti-Muslim Bigot Geert Wilders to DC Events

Geert Wilders, the Dutch Freedom Party leader and one of the most notorious anti-Muslim bigots in the world, announced that this week two Members of Congress will host him at events in Washington, DC.

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders

Representatives Steve King and Louie Gohmert are reportedly helping provide a platform for Wilders at two events, a breakfast sponsored by the Conservative Opportunity Society, founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and later in the day at a reception.

ADL wrote to Representatives King and Gohmert to make sure they know that Wilders’ rhetoric, comparing the Muslim religion itself to Nazism, crosses the boundaries of civility and religious tolerance.

Wilders routinely says “Islam is evil” and calls for the closing down of Muslim schools and mosques, as he did in November 2014 at the most recent David Horowitz Freedom Center Restoration Weekend in Florida. Wilders considers every Muslim an extremist, stating that “according to the Qur’an, there are no moderate Muslims.” He further claims that the fact most Muslims are law-abiding citizens and have no connection to terrorism is irrelevant, because Islam is an expansionist and aggressive ideology.  His profile as a purveyor of ugly anti-Muslim bigotry went global in March 2008, when Wilders released an online film called Fitna. The film simplistically depicts Islam as a violent religion, interspersing verses from the Qur’an with footage of terrorist violence.

Even a radically anti-Muslim lawmaker like Wilders is entitled to express his opinions.  But Americans are entitled to expect their elected representatives to avoid promoting and legitimizing those odious ideas.

Another instance of such deroga­tory and hate­ful rhetoric by Members of their caucus about immigrants drew swift con­dem­na­tion by House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and then Major­ity Leader Eric Can­tor (R–VA) as well as Judi­ciary Immi­gra­tion Sub­com­mit­tee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC).  Speaker Boehner called on leg­is­la­tors to reject hate­ful com­ments that he said were “deeply offen­sive and wrong and said they did “not reflect the val­ues of the Amer­i­can peo­ple or the Repub­li­can Party.”

We hope Speaker Boehner and the House leadership take note of this page from their own playbook and follow their own example again.

Confronting violent extremism from Islamist movements is an urgent and seri­ous task for governments and lawmakers all over the world.

Providing a platform for the basest kind demonizing of Muslims, or of any faith, does lit­tle to make Americans safer. America’s highest ideals of religious liberty and the need to confront terrorism from groups like ISIS and al Qaida with real policy solutions compels Congress to do better.

 

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