‘Islamicize’ Our Schools?

by Dan Quinn

One thing you can be sure of: when the religious right and its supporters talk about “religious freedom,” they’re not talking about freedom for people of all religions. They want government to pick and choose which people of faith will be more free than others. The far-right faction on the Texas State Board of Education offers repeated examples of this kind of hypocrisy. Another example is a new anti-Muslim screed making the rounds on the Internet, criticizing what it calls efforts to “islamicize our schools.”

The author of the piece is Pamela Geller, a blogger and commentator popular in the far-right media (including the cable news networks). Think Ann Coulter, but with even less restraint or shame. Seriously.

Geller, writing on her Atlas Shrugs blog, attacks an “instruction sheet” from an online resource explaining how Muslim parents can ensure that the religious freedom of their children is respected by American public schools:

“Check out this ‘instruction sheet’ to Muslims on how to islamicize their public schools. There is no separation of mosque and state — mosque is state in Islam. If this guide shows us anything, it’s what idiots they take us for. This is, of course, an outrage. None of this should be introduced into the public school. If this is what Muslim parents want, they should send their children to madrassah.”

Yet the website simply suggests six steps parents can take — every one of which is what any parents, regardless of their faith, would take under the law if they thought that their child were denied the opportunity to pray on his or her own or take time off for a sacred holiday: know the law, get the support of a teacher, put requests in writing, meet with school officials, etc. Yet Geller sees all this as evidence of Muslims seeking to take over public schools. But that’s the kind of irrationality one sees in rank bigotry.

This isn’t Geller’s first trip on the Muslim-bashing train. In one of her columns on a far-right website, she suggested that Muslims are all violent extremists and insisted that they be barred from serving in the U.S. military:

“Devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?”

There are other signs of Geller’s extremism. Geller is a “birther,” for example, doubting that President Obama is telling the truth about his birth and citizenship. She even posted to her blog an idiotic piece suggesting, in part, that the president is the late Malcom X’s love child. In addition, she believes Sarah Palin resigned in the middle of her term as Alaska governor because Americans in other states needed her “to lead the next revolution.” Indeed, Geller’s political views appear to be as extreme as they can get, including support for neo-fascists in Europe.

Anti-Muslim bigotry — from Geller and other prominent writers, commentators and politicians — is especially alarming at a time when some politicians (such as members of the Texas State Board of Education) argue that our nation’s Founders wanted government to promote religion. When they make that argument, of course, they specify Christianity. The Founders knew, in fact, that the greatest danger to religious freedom for everyone is permitting government to pick and choose which religions to promote or disfavor. That’s why the Constitution bars the government from doing so.

Geller’s anti-Muslim nonsense would probably find a welcome audience among some Texas State Board of Education members, by the way. Recall that board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, distributed campaign fliers in 2008 accusing his opponent of wanting to write an Islamic curriculum for Texas public schools. His “proof” was a photograph of Laura Ewing, the Democratic nominee for his board seat, posing in front of the Taj Mahal in India. Never mind, of course, that Ewing was on the trip with other educators — including a Republican member of the State Board of Education — and that Texas Gov. Rick Perry supported the trip.

Geller also seems to have plenty of admirers in Texas political circles. Last November the Collin County Conservative Republicans hosted “An Intimate Evening with Pamela Geller” in McKinney, north of Dallas. The host committee included Republican Congressmen Sam Johnson and Ralph Hall from North Texas, GOP state Rep. Jerry Madden of Richardson and Collin County Judge Keith Self. Members of the so-called “Patriot Host Committee” included Republican state representatives Jodie Laubenberg of Parker and Ken Paxton of McKinney. (Video from the event is here.)