An eight-year Marine Corps veteran his wife have filed suit against their daughter’s high school principal, vice-principal, school district and board of education for violating her First Amendment rights by indoctrinating her in Islamic thought.

The case filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland is captioned Wood v. Charles County Public Schools, et al.

The Washington Free Beacon reports:

Their daughter and her fellow students were instructed to write out the Islamic creed “Shahada,” which says, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” When recited by non-Muslims, the creed amounts to conversion to Islam.

Students were also required to memorize and recite the Five Pillars of Islam and were subjected to disparaging teachings about Christianity.

“Most Muslims’ faith is stronger than the average Christian,” one worksheet read.

The class also spent one day covering Christianity, while teachers devoted two weeks to instructing about Islam.

Upon learning of the lessons prioritizing Islam, Wood, who is Christian, contacted the school and demanded alternative assignments for his daughter. The school refused to allow his daughter to opt out of the assignments and threatened her with failing grades if they were not completed. She elected not to complete the worksheets.

The complaint filed Wednesday charges that the school discriminated against Wood’s daughter “by removing her from the academic environment of her World History class, relegating her to the student library, and issuing her failing grades on assignments because [she] refused to deny and insult her Christian beliefs.”

Following Wood’s complaints, the school principal also banned him from entering school grounds.

The Woods filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

§ 1983 is noteworthy because it is the federal law creating a cause of action for violations of constitutional rights, meaning the Woods are claiming their daughter’s education violates the constitution itself.  § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

This means, generally, that a civil action may be brought against government employees claiming to be acting within his or her legal authority (“under color of law”) when violating constitutional rights.  The color of law distinction separates a constitutional claim against a government employee in his or her official capacity from a civil action against a person who just so happens to have a government job.

The Woods’ Complaint gets right to the point.  Paragraph 1 says, “The First Amendment prohibits the promotion of the religion of Islam over other faiths, such as Christianity or Judaism, in our public schools.”  In paragraph 4, the Woods allege “[t]his case, therefore, seeks to protect and vindicate the fundamental constitutional rights of two Maryland parents and their daughter, C.W., who were harshly punished for voicing concerns about the desecration of their Christian beliefs and heritage and the promotion of the Islamic faith in the Defendants’ World History class.”

The juiciest allegations are that the defendants actively sought to prevent parents from knowing the content of the World History Class:

5. Defendants concealed that their high school World History class promoted Islam. The class syllabus failed to mention that the course involved the teaching and promotion of Islam. The class syllabus also failed to mention that Defendants were using two different textbooks. Defendants required that students keep the second textbook, which extensively covered Islam, at the school. Defendants only allowed students to take home the first textbook that did not extensively cover or devote a separate chapter to Islam. . .

6. Plaintiff John Kevin Wood was surprised to learn about the graded homework assignments Defendants required of C.W. because Defendants omitted any information about the teaching and promotion of Islam in C.W.’s 11th grade World History class from the class syllabus. . .

7. La Plata High School without informing the students’ parents, however, used a second book in class, “World History (Survey): Patterns of Interaction.”

8. This second textbook contains additional sections on the Islamic religion that are not included in the first textbook.

9. The second textbook, “World History (Survey): Patterns of Interaction,” stayed at La Plata High School and was not allowed to go home with the students.

You can browse the full Complaint here:

Wood Complaint

The suit’s potential impact is enormous.  The Woods allege that:

Defendants’ acts, policies, practices, procedures, and/or customs of funding and implementing a curriculum that impermissibly endorses and advances the Islamic religion violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, depriving C.W. of rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as applied to the states and their political subdivisions under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

And the Woods therefore:

seek a declaration that Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ clearly established constitutional and statutory rights; a preliminary and permanent injunction barring Defendants from continuing the acts, policies, practices, customs, and procedures that violate the rights of Plaintiffs and other school children as set forth in this Complaint; and a judgment awarding nominal and compensatory damages for the loss of Plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights.

If the court holds that the school board’s curriculum was unconstitutional, and declares that the defendants’ curriculum violated the Constitution, it would ramify through every public school district in the country.  While other courts will inevitably disagree with whatever decision the District of Maryland makes, this is an important step toward developing a jurisprudence on an issue that has come up repeatedly – to what extent disparate treatment of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other religions can and does violate the 1st Amendment’s establishment and free speech clauses.  For there have been numerous arguments about school districts teaching Islam with an air of legitimacy not granted other religions, but little guidance or progress toward resolving the issue.

Wood is a fascinating test case because of the school’s overbearing response to the Woods’ complaints.  It seems reasonable to say that compelling students to say the Shahada – the emblem on the ISIS flag and the means of converting to Islam – is going too far.  Instead of engaging the conversation, the school banned the concerned father and docked the student points.  Seems like a problem.


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