A Republican lawmaker in Tennessee has proposed a bill that would ban public schools from teaching "religious doctrine" earlier than 10th grade after parents complained that middle school world history lessons on Islam were inappropriate.
The bill by state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) would delay teaching of "religious doctrine," as determined by the state board of education, until grades 10, 11 and 12.
“I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age-appropriate,” Butt told the Tennessean.
Tennessee middle school students currently read from religious texts and learn about world religions, including the Five Pillars of Islam. Butt's legislation doesn't specifically mention Islam, but said students aren't ready to learn about religion before a certain age.
“They are not able to discern a lot of times whether it's indoctrination or whether they’re learning about what a religion teaches,” Butt said.
Parents had made similar complaints, saying the curriculum focused more on Islam than on other religions and bordered on "indoctrination."
Other Tennessee lawmakers also have weighed in with concerns about supposed religious indoctrination in schools -- at least when the curriculum involves Islam.
"There is a big difference between education and indoctrination," U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, (R-Tenn)., said in a statement in September.
Tennessee teachers and educational officials, however, disagree. Metro Nashville Public Schools social studies teacher Kyle Alexander said the study of religion origins can provide historical context today.
"The reality is the Muslim world brought us algebra, 'One Thousand and One Nights,' and some can argue it helped bring about the Renaissance," Alexander told the Tennesseean. "There is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history."
Butt came under fire in February for what was perceived to be hateful comments toward Muslim Americans on Facebook.
“It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country," read the post, seemingly taking a jab at the Council on American-Islamic Relations and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Butt later deleted the comment and explained it as a misunderstanding. But Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR representative, said Butt's explanation "just isn’t plausible."