April 14, 2008

Wall of silence broken at state's Muslim public school

Minnesota taxpayers may soon find themselves footing the bill for a separate system of education for Muslims. Minnesota, wake the heck up!

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) is a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. Charter schools are public schools and by law must not endorse or promote religion. Evidence suggests, however, that TIZA is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers. Katherine Kersten writes that "TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The building also houses a mosque. TIZA's executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief. Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food - permissible under Islamic law -- and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day."

Now a substitute teacher is stepping forward. Her experience suggests that school-sponsored religious activity plays an integral role at TIZA.

Arriving on a Friday, she says she was told that the day's schedule included a "school assembly" in the gym after lunch. Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform "their ritual washing."

Afterward teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day, was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man "was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered."

Prayer at TIZA does not appear to be spontaneously initiated by students, but rather scheduled, organized and promoted by school authorities.

According to federal guidelines on prayer in schools, teachers at a public school cannot participate in prayer with students.

In addition, schools cannot favor one religion by offering services for only its adherents, or promote after-school religious instruction for only one group.

The ACLU of Minnesota has launched an investigation of TIZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education has also begun a review.

TIZA is skirting the law by operating what is essentially an Islamic school at taxpayer expense.

State law requires the school to fly an American flag during school hours, however no flag flies outside of TIZA Academy.