The fear of Islam that is currently sweeping our nation has finally reached the halls of the Tennessee legislature.
Rep. Sheila Butt, a Republican from Columbia, recently introduced a bill that would ban the teaching of “religious doctrine” until 10th grade. Though this proposal may seem religion-neutral on its face, the bill was proposed soon after constituents from Rep. Butt’s district voiced concern over Islam being taught in schools.
Parents in Rep. Butt’s district were outraged when they discovered their children were learning the five pillars of Islam. The bill seems to be a way of combating what she, and many of her constituents, see as religious indoctrination.
Their concerns, however, are misguided.
The bill does not solve any issues, but instead creates two major ones: It presupposes a nonexistent problem of religious indoctrination in Tennessee schools while diminishing curriculum as a means to remedy that problem.
Rep. Butt couched her reasoning for the bill within the idea that students younger than 10th grade would be unable to properly analyze information about religion:
They are not able to discern a lot of times whether it’s indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches.
Building Informed Citizens
It is difficult to see how the teaching of facts about religion, such as the five pillars of Islam, are tantamount to indoctrination. Religion, generally, has had an enormous amount of influence on history, social studies, geography, and many other scholarly subjects worth examining. History, origin and the influence that religion has had on the foundations of the world does not indoctrinate students. Instead, it enables them to be informed citizens who are equipped with the skills to analyze more complex issues and subjects later on in life. Robbing students of any religious context to their education until high school does a disservice to those students.
The argument could be made that it is more appropriate to educate students about religion, particularly Islam, at a younger age. If the goal of public education is to create a more educated, informed citizenry to allow the country to thrive, then an understanding of the foundations of Islam and its impact on society is imperative to this goal.
It’s Not About Church and State
Unfortunately, what is more plausible than the genuine desire to provide students with the best public education possible is the implicit nature of this bill to appease people who have unfounded opinions about Islam. The timing of its inception, shortly after an uproar over the learning of the five pillars, only strengthens this assertion.
It would also be difficult to believe that Rep. Butt was simply advocating for a separation between church and state considering she recently voted in favor of declaring the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee.
Politics, unfortunately, is at play and is trying to dictate what students should and should not be exposed to before high school. This proposed law is a symbol of fear hidden behind the shroud of “religious indoctrination” and, if enacted, would surely diminish the quality of education students receive in Tennessee.