Tenn. Man Says Daughter's Teacher Promoted 'Islamic Tolerance'
By ALEXIS SHAW
A Tennessee school district has cancelled some field trips to religious venues after a parent complained that a teacher was pushing "Islamic tolerance" on students.
Mike Conner, 46, of Hendersonville, Tenn., told ABC News that he felt his 14-year-old step daughter's teacher was intentionally giving Islam a greater emphasis than other religions in her Honors World Studies curriculum. The popular elective at the suburban Nashville school with 1,500 students examines five major world religions but only schedules field trips to two houses of worship – a mosque and a Hindu temple.
"I sent an email to the school principal asking her why they aren't visiting all five," Conner said. "She told me, 'We don't have the money to go all five.' If you don't have the money, why are you going to two? No matter which ones you pick, you're showing preferential treatment to those two, whichever two it is."The school, said it eliminated the field trips to houses of worship because "equal representation in regards to field trips for all religions studied is not feasible," Sumner County Schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson told ABC News that the World Studies teacher was not penalized by the school.
Conner's daughter and one other student opted out of the trip, Conner said. His step daughter was given an alternative assignment to complete but felt it too heavily focused on Islam and she declined to complete it.
"She wrote [on the assignment], 'Due to the surplus of information on Muhammad and Islam, and the lack information on Christ and Gandhi, I can't complete the assignment," Conner said.
He added later, "To me, I perceive that the teacher looked at it and said, 'These people clearly have a problem with Islam. I'm going to push Islamic tolerance on their child.'"
Saleh Sbenaty, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University and a board member of the Islamic Center for Murfreesboro, told ABC News that the school's decision to halt the trips was surprising."The school has been doing these trips for years," he said. "Students go to temples, synagogues and churches. That did not even raise any concerns, except for when the school started to visit and Islamic Center. That's where the parents have objectives."
Sbenaty said the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro often hosts students from schools within the area, and that the school's decision may make it "difficult for students to learn about other cultures, faiths and traditions in the face of this close scrutiny."
"It's an ongoing struggle, unfortunately," he said.
The Islamic Center of Nashville, where the field trip took place, did not return ABC News' requests for comment.
The Sumner County school district has come under fire before for introducing religion in schools. In May 2011, the district was sued by the ACLU of Tennessee for promoting "the pattern and practice of school-sponsored religious activities" - including leading students in prayer and Bible study sessions, according to a news release. A settlement was reached in December of that year.