Sunday, May 19, 2019

Christian Student Forced to Write Islamic Conversion Creed Appeals Case to Supreme Court

During the 2014-2015 school year, a Christian teenage girl was forced to recite the Islamic conversion creed — the Shahada — in writing for her 11th-grade class. She was also taught that "Most Muslims' faith is stronger than the average Christian." The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) sued the school responsible, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled with the school. TMLC appealed to the Supreme Court, filing a Writ of Certiorari on Monday.

"Under the guise of teaching history or social studies, public schools across America are promoting the religion of Islam in ways that would never be tolerated for Christianity or any other religion," TMLC President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson said in a statement. "I’m not aware of any school which has forced a Muslim student to write the Lord’s Prayer or John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"

"Many public schools have become a hotbed of Islamic propaganda," Thompson argued. "Teaching Islam in schools has gone far beyond a basic history lesson. Prompted by zealous Islamic activism and emboldened by confusing court decisions, schools are now bending over backwards to promote Islam while at the same time denigrate Christianity."

"We are asking the Supreme Court to provide the necessary legal guidance to resolve the insidious discrimination against Christians in our public schools," he concluded.

In Wood v. Arnold, the parents of Caleigh Wood, John and Melissa Wood, are suing Charles County Public Schools in Maryland, the county board of education, and Evelyn Arnold and Shannon Morris, principal and vice principal of La Plata High School.

TMLC noted five specific pro-Islam teachings that the 11th-grade teacher told Caleigh Wood from the Powerpoint presentation she gave in class (the underlining is original): "Most Muslims' faith is stronger than the average Christian;" "Islam at heart is a peaceful religion;" Jihad is a "personal struggle in devotion to Islam, especially involving spiritual discipline;" "To Muslims, Allah is the same God that is worshiped in Christianity and Judaism;" "Men are the managers of the affairs of women" and "Righteous women are therefore obedient." (To be fair, the Powerpoint did mention jihad as a "holy war" as well as a personal struggle.)

According to the TMLC filing, Wood was required to profess in writing the statement that "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." This statement is known as the Shahada, the Islamic conversion creed. A person recites this declaration in order to convert to Islam and then prays and repeats it during the Muslim call to prayer. Wood said she sincerely believes that it is a sin to profess, by word or in writing, that there is any god except the Christian God.

Yet the school required her to write the Shahada and docked her points when she did not.

Her father also testified that his daughter and her classmates "were instructed that the Islamic religion is a fact while Christianity and Judaism are just beliefs." The teacher told students that the "Qur'an is the word of Allah as revealed to Muhammad in the same way that Jews and Christians believe the Torah and the Gospels were revealed to Moses and the New Testament writers," and that Muhammad was visited by the Angel Gabriel who proclaimed that there is only one true god.

While some instruction in Islam is certainly defensible, many of these teachings crossed the line into advocacy for Islam. Some are also just false. For instance, Muslims believe God directly revealed the Qur'an word for word. This is emphatically not the case with the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which believers say were inspired by God but written by humans in history. In fact, Christians consider the Gospels historical, journalistic documents recounting events the writers personally witnessed.

Claims like Islam being "at heart" peaceful, that Muslims have stronger faith than Christians in general, and that women should be obedient to Sharia (Islamic law that often requires them to wear head and body coverings in public or to stay home unless accompanied by a male relative) are extremely debatable.

While many Muslims reject Islamism — the idea that Sharia should be enforced by law — this radical Islam has deep roots in history, tracing back to Mohammed, who founded the first Islamic state. American freedom is compatible with many Islamic sects, but many more militate against it.

Muslims often follow their religious law more strictly than Christians, largely because Christianity is not a religion of law. This does not necessarily make their faith stronger.

The Fourth Circuit Court argued that this biased teaching did not violate the Lemon test for establishment of religion because the teaching of Islam was driven in part by a secular purpose, had the primary effect that neither advanced nor inhibited religion, and did not excessively entangle Church and State. If the teaching had not been biased in a pro-Islam direction, this may be defensible. After all, Americans should learn about Islam — just as they should learn about Islam and Judaism.

Unfortunately for the Fourth Circuit, previous court rulings kicking Christian prayer and Bible reading out of public schools suggest this teaching of Islam is also unconstitutional. TMLC, which almost certainly disagrees with the excising of prayer and Bible reading, used these legal arguments against the teaching of Islam.

TMLC cited Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), in which the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored reading of the Bible was unconstitutional. "The pervasive religiosity and direct government involvement inhering in the prescription of prayer and Bible reading in public schools, during and as part of the curricular day, involving young impressionable children whose school attendance is statutorily compelled, and utilizing the prestige, power, and influence of school administration, staff, and authority, cannot realistically be termed simply accommodation, and must fall within the interdiction of the First Amendment," TMLC quoted from Schempp.

This citation shows that the Supreme Court "has forwarded a stricter application of the Establishment Clause" where "impressionable youths are involved."

At the time Schempp was decided, schools may have established Christianity to some degree. Yet since Schempp and similar rulings pushed the Bible out of public schools, Americans have lost out on the rich literary heritage and civic significance of the Bible. Religious literacy has reached dangerous lows, to the degree that journalists at America's newspaper of record, The New York Times, lack a basic understanding of Christian doctrine.

Americans should have a basic understanding of what the major religions claim, especially Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These faiths have impacted history in important ways, and students should have direct access to their history and texts in the classroom.

Although I am a Bible-believing Christian, I learned the Shahada and have no problem saying or writing it. If there were a fair standard where schools taught all the major religious conversion creeds (including John 3:16 along with the Shahada), I think there would be no problem with requiring students to know them. Perhaps students could still get marks for alternate versions, such as writing "g-d" for "god" so as to avoid sin.

Yet current law restricts teaching about religion, on the theory that young minds are too impressionable and that schools teaching the Bible would constitute an establishment of religion. Perhaps in early elementary school this may have some merit, but at least in high school, students should gain a basic understanding of these things.

In any case, if the Supreme Court precedent prevents Christian prayer and Bible reading in schools, it should also prohibit this kind of skewed Islamic teaching.


SAT to Give Students ‘Adversity Score’ to Capture Social and Economic Background

New score comes as college admissions decisions are under scrutiny

The College Board plans to assign an adversity score to every student who takes the SAT to try to capture their social and economic background, jumping into the debate raging over race and class in college admissions.

This new number, called an adversity score by college admissions officers, is calculated using 15 factors including the crime rate and poverty levels from the student’s high school and neighborhood.

Students won’t be told the scores, but colleges will see the numbers when reviewing their applications.

Fifty colleges used the score last year as part of a beta test. The College Board plans to expand it to 150 institutions this fall, and then use it broadly the following year.

How colleges consider a student’s race and class in making admissions decisions is hotly contested. Many colleges, including Harvard University, say a diverse student body is part of the educational mission of a school. A lawsuit accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by holding them to a higher standard is awaiting a judge’s ruling. Lawsuits charging unfair admission practices have also been filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California system.

The College Board, the New York based nonprofit that oversees the SAT, said it has worried about income inequality influencing test results for years. White students scored an average of 177 points higher than black students and 133 points higher than Hispanic students in 2018 results. Asian students scored 100 points higher than white students. The children of wealthy and college-educated parents outperformed their classmates.

“There are a number of amazing students who may have scored less [on the SAT] but have accomplished more,” said David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board. “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

The SAT, which includes math and verbal sections and is still taken with No. 2 pencils, is facing challenges. Federal prosecutors revealed this spring that students cheated on both the SAT and ACT for years as part of a far-reaching college admissions cheating scheme. In Asia and the Middle East, both the ACT and SAT exams have experienced security breaches.

Yale University is one of the schools that has tried using applicants’ adversity scores. Yale has pushed to increase socioeconomic diversity and, over several years, has nearly doubled the number of low-income and first-generation-to-attend-college students to about 20% of newly admitted students, said Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale.

“This [adversity score] is literally affecting every application we look at,” he said. “It has been a part of the success story to help diversify our freshman class.”

Colleges could glean some of the information that the adversity score reflects from other parts of a student’s application. But having the score makes comparisons more consistent, Mr. Quinlan said.

James Conroy, director of college counseling at New Trier High School, which serves several affluent and mostly white communities north of Chicago, said the focus on diversity by elite colleges is already high and the adversity score would magnify that.

“My emails are inundated with admissions officers who want to talk to our diversity [black] kids,” Mr. Conroy said. “Do I feel minority students have been discriminated against? Yes, I do. But I see the reversal of it happening right now.”

The College Board tried a similar effort two decades ago but quickly dropped it amid pushback from colleges. In 1999, after California and Washington voted to ban affirmative-action preferences in public education, the College Board created a program it called Strivers.

The program aimed to measure the challenges students faced. It created an expected SAT score based on socioeconomic factors including, if schools chose to add it, race. Students who scored at least 200 points more on the SAT than predicted were called Strivers. Because minorities often had lower predicted scores, they were more likely to be Strivers.

The adversity score, by contrast, doesn’t take into account race and is superior because it is steeped in more research, said Connie Betterton, vice president for higher education access and strategy at the College Board.

“Since it is identifying strengths in students, it’s showing this resourcefulness that the test alone cannot measure,” Mr. Coleman, the College Board CEO, said. “These students do well, they succeed in college.”

The new score—which falls on a scale of one through 100—will pop up on something called the Environmental Context Dashboard, which shows several indicators of relative poverty, wealth and opportunity as well as a student’s SAT score compared with those of their classmates. On the dashboard, the score is called “Overall Disadvantage Level.”

An adversity score of 50 is average. Anything above it designates hardship, below it privilege.

"I believe this trend does more harm than good... Being accepted into a college is unlikely to repair 18 years of disadvantages. How can we help these kids when they are younger so they are better prepared for college? " -- Matthew Peters

The College Board declined to say how it calculates the adversity score or weighs the factors that go into it. The data that informs the score comes from public records such as the U.S. Census as well as some sources proprietary to the College Board, Mr. Coleman said.

The College Board began developing the tool in 2015 because colleges were asking for more objective data on students’ backgrounds, said Ms. Betterton. Several college admissions officers said they worry the Supreme Court may disallow race-based affirmative action. If that happens, the value of the tool would rise, they said.

“The purpose is to get to race without using race,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Mr. Carnevale formerly worked for the College Board and oversaw the Strivers program.

The dashboard may also be an advantage in a tight competition for market share with the ACT, another college-admissions exam. A spokesman for the ACT said it is “investing significant resources” in a comparable tool that is expected to be announced later this year.

At Florida State University, the adversity scores helped the school boost nonwhite enrollment to 42% from 37% in the incoming freshman class, said John Barnhill, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University. He said he expects pushback from parents whose children go to well-to-do high schools as well as guidance counselors there.

“If I am going to make room for more of the [poor and minority] students we want to admit and I have a finite number of spaces, then someone has to suffer and that will be privileged kids on the bubble,” he said.


Boy is sent home from school for 'not wearing enough pink' on an anti-bullying awareness day

A boy has been sent home school because he was not wearing enough pink clothing during an anti-bullying event.

His mother, Claire Lealiifano, alleged his New Zealand primary school sent the boy home unsupervised and without contacting her.

Ms Lealiifano claimed the Helensville Primary School teacher told her son if he wasn't going to wear pink than he should have come in school uniform.

Ms Lealiifano shared the photo of her son's shirt on Facebook said she was angry with the school's actions.

'When you send your son to school in pink for anti-bullying. Apparently what he was wearing wasn't good enough,' Ms Lealiifano said on Facebook. 'So the head of year sent him home to get changed WITHOUT CHECKING I WAS HOME..... WTF?'

Ms Lealiifano claimed she received an email from the teacher who sent her son home.  'I then received an email from this so-called teacher saying if he didn't return to school she would contact the truancy officers.

'My kid was pretty upset that he had been picked on for not wearing enough pink. But yet there were kids at school wearing different coloured tops that weren't pink. So my question is why pick on my son?

Ms Lealiifano claims her and the boy's father arranged a meeting with the school's principal who told the parents her son's clothes were appropriate and the teacher should not have sent him home.

Education authorities said they are taking the alleged incident 'seriously' and are working through a 'fair and robust process' of investigation.


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