He was not ‘forced to choose’ denouncing Islam or receiving a lower grade
An Arizona federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging anti-Islam hostility in an Arizona community college course.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations brought the suit on behalf of Mohamed Sabra, a student in Prof. Nicholas Damask’s 100-level world politics course at Scottsdale Community College. It claimed that a module entitled “Islamic Terrorism” unconstitutionally disapproved of and was hostile toward Islam.
“Examining the course as a whole, a reasonable, objective observer would conclude that the teaching’s primary purpose was not the inhibition of religion,” U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich ruled. “Curriculum that merely conflicts with a student’s religious beliefs does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.”
The judge used the Lemon test to determine the course did not violate First Amendment provisions on free exercise or the establishment of religion. The test states that government actions toward religion are only lawful if they have a secular purpose, do not advance or inhibit a religion, and do not become excessively entangled with religion in any way.
While Sabra alleged that he was “forced to choose between denouncing his religion by selecting the ‘correct’ answer” or receiving a lower grade on a quiz, Brnovich countered that Sabra only had to “demonstrate an understanding of the material taught.”
The student was not “required to adopt the views expressed by Dr. Damask or the authors Dr. Damask cited to in his course,” and the professor did not inhibit Sabra’s personal worship at any point in his classroom.
UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh called the ruling “an important victory for academic freedom” in a brief analysis on his blog.
Professors, “including those at public colleges, have to be able to speak freely about religious belief systems (whether Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or anything else), no less than other belief systems.”
Volokh declined to further elaborate for The College Fix, saying he was “slammed.” Cornell Law Prof. William Jacobson and South Texas College of Law Prof. Josh Blackman declined to analyze the ruling.
A high-profile critic of radical Islam expressed a less sanguine view. “[A]s a campaign of intimidation, [the lawsuit] has already served a great deal of its purpose,” Robert Spencer wrote at Jihad Watch. Brnovich’s ruling “is not a huge defeat” for CAIR “and others who are trying to intimidate the West into accepting Sharia blasphemy laws.”