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Florida Republicans: Muslim Documentaries Shown in Schools Are ‘Indoctrination’

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asked to ”dump“ the ”Access Islam“ documentaries

Florida Republicans say the U.S. Department of Education “has introduced an Islamic indoctrination program for the public schools” and are asking Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to “dump” a series of public television documentaries called “Access Islam.”

The short documentaries, produced by PBS Thirteen/WNET New York 10 years ago, using funds from the George W. Bush administration, were designed to supplement world history and world religion curriculums and provide students with a factual understanding of Islam. The Volusia County Republican Party is challenging them in a Change.org petition.

In one segment, focused on women and Islam, Dr. Raana Akbar, a Pakistani immigrant to Michigan, talks about being Muslim in America: “Muslims in America are very lucky because this is the one country where you can practice Islam as it was brought to humanity. The rights of the individual are protected in Islam. The rights of society of protected in Islam. The Constitution of the United States of America does precisely that.”

Other topics include Muslim holidays, the history of Timbuktu, and Islamic art.

As far as the Volusia County Republican Party is concerned, though, this counts as religious “indoctrination.” Party officials say in their petition that “‘Access Islam’ is nothing short of a Sunday-school class on Islam and fails to meet any constitutional criteria for permissible education of religion in the public schools.”

Experts disagree, however. Charles C. Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center, told the Miami Herald that “nothing in these lessons crosses the constitutional line dividing education and indoctrination. Students learn the basic tenets and practices of Muslims… Students are not asked to affirm or reject any religious teachings. Nor are students required to participate in any religious or devotional activities.”

Moreover, the Department of Education does not require that the “Access Islam” videos be used, although in Indiana — not exactly a bastion of liberality — the state Department of Education does recommend them as a World History resource.

Florida, according to the Herald, leaves the decision to use the videos up to local school boards — so it’s unclear why a local Republican Party would feel the need to petition DeVos to ban the documentaries.