June 12, 2008

Virginia Madrassah

One wonders what exactly is involved with getting a private school accredited. One would hope that the content of a school's curriculum would be examined carefully. But, I suspect, that accrediting agencies probably just look over the lists to see if the appropriate subjects are covered and, as many private schools are religious in nature, they tend to gloss over the content of religious instruction.

Usually, I would be thinking about this in the context of whether the school is teaching evolution as part of its biology and science program, and trying to determine whether intelligent design or its somewhat more honestly titled companion doctrine, creationism, was being touted as an
"equal" theory of the diversity of life forms. I could easily expect that attacks on evolution and scientific thought on religious grounds could be concealed in the rubrics of religious instruction, because educational regulators and accreditation bureaus rightly do not feel competent to decide if a school is teaching "real" religion or not.

But not today. No, today, I'm kind of, well, disturbed to learn that a private school that enjoys accreditations from two relatively prestigious entities, and which is teaching upper-class students near our nation's capital, is disseminating contemporary religious justifications for murder and genocide.

The Islamic Saudi Academy of Fairfax, Virginia has apparently been teaching its students that it is morally good to murder adulterers and apostates, and that there is nothing wrong with killing and stealing from "polytheists". Are Christians "polytheists" because they believe that God is God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? Are Catholics "polytheists" because they direct prayers at the Virgin Mary and various saints?

At what point should society as a whole begin to object to a religion's moral teachings? Because this seems over that line, if the line exists at all. It is most assuredly not okay to kill people because they have a different religion than you. Not here, not in Saudi Arabia (the government of which subsidizes the Islamic Saudi Academy), not anywhere. I hope that the school will both deny that these allegations are true, and condemn the notions it is accused of promoting. But I doubt that the second part of that hope will ever manifest.

We know that parents have a right to send their children to religious schools if they want to, so we have to alow religious schools. Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) 268 U.S. 510, a venerable piece of American Constitutional law, says so. But we don't necessarily have to accredit every religious school that's out there just because it's religious. We can demand that a school teach certain subjects in certain ways.

Since these teachings are (if the report is true) so gravely morally objectionable, is there anything that, for instance, the Commonwealth of Virginia could do about it? The answer is, probably not much. If the people who run this school think that these are acceptable moral teachings, consistent with the doctrine of their religion, it's not for the state to step in and say otherwise.

That would take us to the question of making a school teach morality and ethics in a general sense, as a required subject. That could get us to the point of requiring teachers at the ISA to teach at least one version of morality that says "no, don't kill non-Muslims."

But that would also necessarily mean that public schools would have to teach morality and ethics, too. Without crossing the line into religious indoctrination, either for or against any particular religion, or without being for or against religion in general. Frankly, I doubt if there are a substantial enough number of grade- and high school teachers out there up to the task. Many would be, no doubt, but this is a pretty sensitive and unclear line. So we're talking lots of lawsuits here, coming from all directions, because everyone of every religious or moral stripe would find something to object to in the content of the required ethics and morality curriculum.

Maybe we could pass a law preventing a foreign government from subsidizing, directly or indirectly, private schools in the United States. Of course, that could in theory result in shutting down every Catholic school in the nation becuase it could be argued that the Catholic Church is ultimately controlled by the Pope, who is the government of the Holy See, a sovereign nation that is not the United States. I don't think that would be the result most people would want to see; Catholic schools generally do a good job of educating their students and their alumni do not even all go on to become Catholics (I am an example of that).

There are no easy answers here. There wouldn't be if the school were teaching a violently intolerant brand of Christianity, either. But it's a Muslim school -- a madrassah -- and that makes it a matter of particular sensitivity here. I think all that can be done is to hold the school up to public ridicule and encourage parents to not send their children there. But if that doesn't work, I doubt there's much we can do -- if the school teaches the required subjects and in the required manner, I would feel compelled (reluctantly) to resist attempts by the state or a state proxy (like an accreditation entity) to interfere with that school teaching that religion's version of morality. Which is too bad because if this is true, it's absolutely outrageous.

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