by Joseph Perkins
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota released hundreds of documents Monday from the group’s lawsuit against a Minnesota charter school, which accuses the school of using tax dollars to promote Islam.
“In many ways this would’ve been a much easier case for the ACLU, bluntly, if, instead of alleging a Muslim religion violates the First Amendment, it was a Catholic religion,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director the ACLU of Minnesota, after the documents were released.
The ACLU filed its lawsuit against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) in 2009, claiming that the publicly-funded charter school violated the First Amendment requirement of separation of church and state.
Among other allegations, Samuelson’s organization claimed that TiZA, located in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., “illegally transferred money to its religious landlords, promoted Islam through its Arabic curriculum and its connection to the after-school religious program, and used taxpayer funds in excess of $1 million to renovate buildings to the benefit of their religious landlords.”
TiZA closed its doors before the 2011-2012 academic year and its assets are tied up in federal bankruptcy court. The ACLU continues to press on with the case, it says, to send a message to other publicly-funded schools.
“If we could get a federal judge to say, ‘You can’t do A, B and C,’’’ said Samuelson, “we could take that ruling to other charter schools and remind them how the courts interpret the laws and here’s what you can and cannot do.”
Asad Zaman, TiZA’s former executive director, said the shuttered charter school has been falsely accused by the ACLU. He insists that TiZA did not use taxpayer dollars inappropriately.
He said the lease payments the charter school made to its landlord were approved in advance by the Minnesota Department of Education. As to TiZA’s bus schedule, he said, it was overwhelmingly preferred by parents of the charter school’s pupils.
Moreover, said Zaman, the charter school would still be open were it not for the Minnesota state government and the ACLU.
A change in state law, requiring the charter school sponsors be based in Minnesota, meant that TiZA had to part ways with Islamic Relief USA. The ACLU’s lawsuit and resulting media coverage, said Zaman, made it impossible to find another sponsor for the charter school.
Zaman said the ACLU lawsuit is moot at this point, despite Monday’s document dump. “If they wish to make case law,” he said, “they need to find a live school, not a dead one.”