Examples of government-funded Islamic whitewashing in public schools

Several days ago I wrote about a government-funded project, “Access Islam,” designed to be used in American public schools. Supported by the US Department of Education, as well as by the Smithsonian Institution and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) the project is objectionable because it not only singles out Islam (there are no comparable projects for other faiths), making it unconstiutional, but is also patronizingly designed to whitewash any doctrine of Islam that could be seen as oppressive or injurious. I have no idea whether “Access Islam” was in fact used in any schools. (If readers know, do tell me.)

I see that several readers have argued for government-designed programs of “religious education” in public schools, dismissing my arguments against that as not dispositive. And, indeed, they might not be. But I think it would be very hard— in an America imbued with a sense of fair play—to design a religious curriculum that was not so sanitized and egalitarian that it didn’t teach kids anything they couldn’t learn by simply living in American society.

Don’t believe me? Here, found by reader Matt, is a quiz from the “Access Islam” course materials. It’s from the segment called “Roles of Woman”—the same sanitized and duplicitous segment (original lesson here) that I wrote about yesterday. And here is the quiz the students are supposed to take after reading that material; it appears on the website of WNET, a PBS station:

Look at some of those questions!

You want religious education in American public schools? This program, designed by the government and approved by the Smithsonian and PBS, is the kind of thing you’re gonna get.

It’s untenable to try teaching what “good” and “bad” things each faith has led to, for not all faiths are equal in that respect, and yet they must be presented as equal to conform to the First Amendment.

Given that, there are two solutions. Just list the beliefs of each religion (and you know the issue with that: which beliefs do we prioritize given diverse beliefs?), or sanitize all religions so they appear to be wonderful, empowering, and egalitarian.

That is no way to teach anything so divisive and controversial. And that’s why we shouldn’t have religious education in our public schools. Exhibit 1 is above.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Am I to take it the answers to the questions in part 1 are, in consecutive order :



    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      That’s not how I would answer them!

      And even where the answers are technically true, such as the Qur’an directing both men and women to dress modestly (I hate that word!!!), the issue isn’t that simple. I wrote a lengthy post on that one phrase from the Qur’an demonstrating that the restrictions on women were significantly greater than for men. And we’re not talking just cultural differences – all my conclusions were supported by generally accepted hadiths.

      • Craw
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        You make a really important point. The ahadith (plural of hadith) provide detailed examples, gazillions of them, of how Mohammed allegedly thought women should be treated. These much more than general injunctions from the Koran are used in sharia and teaching and shaping behavioral norms.

        • Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          Islamo-apologists like to pretend the hadith don’t exist, like when comparing the percentage of ‘violent’ passages in the bible vs. the koran.

      • Taz
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Most of them are not simple “True or False” questions.

        “Muslim women are oppressed by their religion”

        Do they mean all Muslim women, or some? If all, it’s false. If some, it’s true.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

          Yes! Nothing is that simple, especially in religion. You can’t answer questions like that with “True of False”.

      • Posted September 7, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        Any question that begins “the Qur’an says [something progressive]” can be dismissed because The Qur’an is not identical with Islam. A religion is not just what is in its holy book but also the things its adherents say and do, the cultures and societies it moulds and so on.

        It’s no good the apologists saying the Qur’an preaches equality of men and women because the manifest truth is that societies run on Islamic principles tend to be oppressive to women.

  2. Posted September 7, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Before Islam was invented, women in Arabia could run businesses and be successful.

    Unscrupulous men would then marry them and a few years later all the woman’s money would have mysteriously vanished.

  3. Liz
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I took an honors English elective class called “Myth, Legend, Bible” in my public high school junior year. We studied myth, legend, and the Bible. What I took away from it (and I think was the point of the class) is that there really aren’t that many dissimilarities among them. Maybe they could branch out and include other religious texts, like the Quran, in addition to the Bible. I had been questioning religion years before this class but it definitely was eye-opening.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:26 am | Permalink

      If only more schools could get away with courses like that!

      • Liz
        Posted September 20, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        It was a public school so maybe. I loved it.

  4. Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    The “cultural, not religious” part really bothers me. An Islamic country is almost by definition intertwined in both culture and religion. There is virtually no way to tease the two apart.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      What is religion, if not culture, anyway?!

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        My latest greatest reply to “what is religion”:

        Truth claims produced by scientific illiteracy.

        That’s it – all else – community, behavior, helping people, love, stained glass, music, funny hats, is a distraction, or added on, or something else that can be explained without religion.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The greatest thing this country did in it’s beginning was to get religion out of government and let the individual practice his own religion or not without interference. Since then, memories have been short and this important fact has sadly been forgotten or run over by religious people and their institutions. Almost every colony in the beginning was declaring certain religions the religion of the state and even taxing the public for this religion, just like they do in old Europe. Both Madison and Jefferson saw this as very dangerous and worked for years to remove this tax in Virginia. We have forgotten the lessons and examples of the founders and we do not know our history.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Many actual courses in comparative religion outline the many divergent schools of thought in Christianity, but make all other religions seem more uniform than they actually are.
    (To do Buddhism, you simply have to get the difference between Mahayana and Theravada.) Patheos blogs has several separate Christian channels: Evangelical, Catholic, Progressive Mormon, and even more Christian subgroups in its library section, but they have only one Buddhist channel. This is fairly silly. The differences between various Buddhist schools is internally just as great as that between Christian groups even if American self-professed Buddhists are unaware of them.

    Many older Comp/Rel courses tend to focus on differences between Christian denominations rather than schools of thought.

    I say if you are going to teach this, include divergent schools of thought, teach the Crusades and the Inquisition along with the rest.
    Not sure what to do about teaching Islam.

  7. Taz
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    This quiz has the clear implication that only “good” comes from religion – anything “bad” is culture.

    In other words:
    Religion = good
    Secular = bad

    This is not acceptable to me.

  8. Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    The instructions, to first take the quiz, then “revise your answers” after reading the apologetics essay, is especially tendentious.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      As is the assumption you didn’t know anything about Islan before taking the course. It rather proves Jerry’s point that they’re trying to create a false image of Islam.

  9. Craw
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Sura 4 pretty much refutes the essay. Take for instance being equal.
    “Men are managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.” Do read all of Sura 4 if you haven’t.

    So of course do the hadith as Heather has mentioned. This is actually even more important than the Koran here, since they provide a wealth of detailed examples of the “right” way to treat women, not vague generalities.

  10. nicky
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    ‘Men and women are equal in the eyes of God/Allah’.
    That can mean three things:
    1 – A majority of His followers don’t see eye to eye with Him there.
    2 – God/Allah is blind.
    3 – They are equal, but men are ‘more equal’ than women. The Orwellian pig type of thing.
    Any other possibility not covered?

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    The First Amendment essentially prohibits three things:

    1) Govt policies privileging any one religion over others.

    2) Teachers proselytizing for their own religion in a public education system (including state colleges)

    3) Prayer in public schools.

    But it’s not entirely clear that the First Amendment per se prohibits teaching that negative things have been done in the name of religion.

    But problems remain.

    Public schools allow books that paint Puritans badly such as “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Crucible” because the Puritans are largely defunct and no longer around to cry foul about being discriminated against.

    However, there are a lot more American novels that paint Mormons in a bad light than most folk are aware of, including the very first Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” (never filmed by Hollywood or BBC as written).

    Similar older titles would be “Riders of the Purple Sage”, “The Giant Joshua” and more recently “The 19th Wife”, and “Cage of Stars”.

    Novels that treat Mormons favorably tend to be propagandistic books written by Mormons.

    Thus it is a twister to figure out how to treat Mormonism “fairly” in a classroom.

  12. eric
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    That’s terrible! I am a defender of the notion of comparative religion classes in school, but if this is the crap the Smithsonian and PBS cook up, clearly they shouldn’t be doing it.

    As an alternative, I note that the University of California reviews and approves (or rejects) CA high school courses for inclusion in their early admission program (essentially, if you go to a CA high school that uses approved courses, and you graduate in the top 10% of your class, you are guaranteed a place (somewhere) into the Cal State or UC system). Here is a top-level description of what UC looks for in “a” courses (social sciences, where an elective in Comparative Religion would fall). With those guidelines and the absolute butt-whipping the UC professors gave the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) a bunch of years ago for not following them, I would be willing to say these folks *can* do it right. Maybe not always, but the potential is there.

    • somer
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      The potential is there but the path in America (USA) will incline most places to do some sort of whitewash of religion wherever religion is taught. I suspect Randy Schenk is right – avoid religion in public schools (and preferably all schools) altogether. The inclination from the US Constitution is neither to challenge religion too hard nor to favour any one religion or non faith so there tends to be a presentation with whitewash of religion. The examples Jerry cites are arguably a much bigger whitewash for Islam. Because the constitution doesnt allow rational secular atheistic style explanation of why there is an extra big Islamic whitewash – because of the implications for all religion – I suspect the leading position will always be something of a whitewash – especially of islam – because of the anti west flavour of most of todays left however wonderful the left is on many other issues including economic justice.

      Maybe at uni level people can choose to do courses of comparative religion and that would be less contentious

      A few years ago the University of Southern California hosted an MSA site that blatantly promoted salafi Islam which ran for about 7 years before concerned Jews forced the thing to be based elsewhere. The site was mainly run by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid the same Saudi guy behind Islamonline and Islam question and answers. It blatantly promoted, using islamic scriptures and some commentary (especially “the Ideal Muslima” about women) to promote extreme misogyny, hatred of jews, and jihadism.

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Why do I get the feeling that these sort of things are reactions to, and therefore always tiptoeing around “9/11”?

    • Posted October 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Of course. This devastating attack created a wish to submit to attackers.

  14. Posted September 9, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    A recent tw**t lead me to this page on the Oswego, State University of New York website:
    I had no idea how beneficial (sarcasm alert) Islam has been to the abolition of slavery.

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