Sunday, April 12, 2015

Upset Mother of High School Teen takes to Facebook after Islam pamphlet assignment

Jennette Martonosi has recently become outraged due to an assignment that was given to her Tenth Grade high school daughter. Her daughter, a student at Jenison High School in Michigan, was instructed to create a pamphlet regarding Islam. Part of the instructions that were given with the assignment were that in should be comprehensible enough to be able to "introduce Islam to 3rd graders." The project was assigned in the student's World History Class. The thinking behind the teacher was that in order to understand historic and current events around the world, students should have a full picture regarding other country's religion and culture- which unlike America are often times inseparable.

Outraged by the content of the assignment, Martonosi decided to make her concerns public on Facebook. Her concerns with the project were that she felt as though the assignment was promoting Islam over other world religions. Additionally, she was offended that it claimed that "Allah [is] the same God of the Christians and Jews." (A statement which I will not take to touch up on in this post). 

In response to Martonosi's post, principal Brandon Graham also took to Facebook. Clarifying some of the misunderstandings, Graham ensured the concerned parents that these pamphelts were, and never were intended to be, distributed to Third Grade students. Furthermore, Islam is one of five major religions which are part of the Jenison Public Schools; curriculum. "The religions include Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam." That being said, in an additional post, Martonosi argued that, "Islam was the ONLY religion of the 4 studied so far that was given the assignment to create a pamphlet."

The question here is whether or not the First Amendment Establishment clause has been violated by promoting Islam over other religions. I do not believe that by assigning a pamphlet during the Islam section of the course promotes one particular religion over another. It simply is a way of "stirring" things up in the course in order to keep the students engaged rather than allowing the class to become mundane. If we view this issue from an accommodationist approach, than the fact that the curriculum is incorporating the five major religions- Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam- than the school is appropriately acting with neutrality (granted that some minor religions do not play such an impacting role in a course discussing World History and therefore can be reasonably excluded without acting discriminatory towards them).

In is in my opinion, however, that the assignment has violated the First Amendment. The subject is World History, and although it is important to understand the role which the five major religions play in that subject, students should not be forced to do assignments which are directly engaging with the religions in particular. For a secular purpose of understanding World History, world politics, etc, incorporation of these religions into the material does not violate the First Amendment. However, an assignment geared specifically at addressing the world religions outside of World History is no longer secular but advancing religious purpose.


Molly H. said...

I disagree with the author and think that the assignment was not a violation of the First Amendment. I myself took a World History class in middle school and had a very similar assignment, and I was randomly assigned a certain religion, as was the rest of the class. Often times, people use the argument that religion is a large part of our history, therefore should be in certain documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance (which is also recited in public schools and has religious content), and the use of prayer in public settings. Those who support these actions always claim that religion has shaped our country and that our foundation was built upon it; why should this be any different?

The five major religions of the world-Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam- are often found at the heart of war, genocide, and other major historical events. If we were to cut out all historical events that have religious purposes from history classes, our youth would not be learning about crucial occurrences that have shaped our world and it's modern society. I believe that Martonosi should acknowledge that her daughter is learning about an important part of our world, just like her potentially jewish, hindu, christian, buddhist, and islamic classmates are.

Peter M said...

I agree with Molly that the assignment did not violate the Establishment Clause. The assignment seems to have been reasonably integrated into the school curriculum so that it is not promoting the religion of Islam. Religions can be taught in schools in a way where it is clear that the goal is not conversion into that religion. The purpose of the assignment is education not advertisement. The potential problem with an assignment like this would be if it violated a student's right to Free Exercise. Having students the existence of a belief like "Allah is the same God of the Christians and Jews" does not mean that students are being forced to adopt that belief. I don't believe that the Free Exercise Clause was violated in the case.

Courtney W. said...

I do not think that the assignment violated the establishment clause. It was merely meant to be used as a part of history rather than a religious device. I think, as Molly said above, that religion is an important part of history and if we were to cut out teaching the historical parts of religion, we would be cutting out a major part of the world's history.