Two New Jersey parents who complained about how Islam was being taught in their children’s schools are now upset after being called out as Islamophobes.
Libby Hilsenrath and Nancy Gayer, both parents of seventh grade sons at Chatham Middle School, have sought out the help of a conservative law firm after apparently being “pilloried by their community,” according to a press release.
The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based group whose mission is to “preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” claimed that Hilsenrath and Gayer have been subjected to “personal attacks” because of the parents’ campaign to stop so-called “Islamic indoctrination” at Chatham schools.
“They were defamed as ‘bigots’ and ‘Islamophobes’, ‘hateful’, ‘ignorant’, ‘xenophobes’, ‘intolerant’, ‘racist’, ‘closed minded’, ‘sad and ignorant’ in social media, and the list goes on,” the statement reads.
Gayer and Hilsenrath brought up their concerns at a board of education meeting on February 6. Their objections centered around a world cultures and geography class, particularly a section on the Middle East and North Africa region.
“It’s just not fair that within this unit of study the Chatham school district taught one religion to the exclusion of all others, and for the community to be so unkind and unwelcoming towards us, just for having raised legitimate questions as concerned parents,” Gayer is quoted as saying on the press release.
The parents claimed that although this region of the world has historical ties to Christianity and Judaism, the lesson focused too closely on teaching the tenets and principles of Islam. They said students watched videos, were shown a PowerPoint presentation, and tested about Islam’s principles, and claimed that all of this amounted to “proselytizing.”
In particular, the parents brought up an animated video that they claim was used to teach children about the five pillars of Islam. The Thomas More Law Center called the video was “subtle propaganda.”
Watch the lesson on the five pillars of Islam below.
The parents’ objections gained national attention after they appeared on the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” show, where they claimed the district was promoting Islam and suppressing instruction about Christianity.
Gayer said that she felt targeted by the community for bringing up her concerns.
“Unfortunately, I was stared down at a grocery store,” the mom said on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “I believe I was in the express line with just ten items, but yet I was still stared down. It was pretty unnerving. Everybody in town was just really unnerving.”
During the next board of education meeting on March 6, the district addressed the parents’ concerns in a packed room. Community members and parents came forward to show support for the district’s social studies curricula and asked educators to continue teaching about Islam. Several alumni also came forward to attest that they had never felt proselytized to during their time in middle school.
Steven Maher, Chatham High School’s supervisor of social studies, emphasized that the school was following New Jersey’s state standards on teaching religion.
Maher explained that many world religions and philosophies (including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.) are taught in New Jersey public schools, and students are also asked to understand how these religions spread and how they are practiced today. In the seventh grade, instruction about religious traditions is tied to study about regions of the world.
Dr. Michael LaSusa, Superintendent of Schools for the school district of the Chathams, told The Huffington Post that “our school district appropriately addresses all major world religions in a way that that teaches students ABOUT religion in the context of history, geography, literature, and so forth.”
During the meeting, board officials announced that the district’s curriculum committee agreed that no changes would be made to the social studies curriculum.
Watch a recording of the School District of the Chathams’ board of education meeting.
The Thomas More Law Center claims that Chatham’s curriculum gave students a “sugarcoated, false depiction of Islam.”
“They had not been informed of the kidnappings, beheadings, slave-trading, massacres, and persecution of non-Muslims, nor of the repression of women — all done in the name of Islam and the Koran,” the center said in its statement.
In fact, Muslims in America and around the world have continually spoken out against violent acts committed in the name of Islam.
American Muslims have also reported feeling targeted because of their beliefs. According to a recent poll survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Muslims are the most likely faith community in the U.S. to report religious-based discrimination (60 percent). And more than two in five Muslims with kids in K-12 schools report that their children have been bullied because of their faith.
It is unclear whether Gayer and Hilsenrath plan to pursue legal action against the school district. The Thomas More Law Center has taken on similar cases against public schools in the past. Requests for comment sent to the center by The Huffington Post were unanswered.
Abdul Alim Mubarak-Rowe, communications director of the New Jersey branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that the apprehension around including Islam in the curriculum is fueled by fear.
“The response of some of the parents to sharing some basic information about one of the worlds’ major religion amounts to an overreaction fueled by the atmosphere of Islamophobia that exists in America during this present time,” Mubarak-Rowe told The Huffington post. “The notion of ‘indoctrination’ of Islam to the students is completely unfounded.”