Q: Did the U.S. Supreme Court bar public schools from teaching about Islam?
A: No. That rumor originates from a website that describes itself as satirical.
Public schools in America can teach about religion, but they can’t preach about religion.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for public schools to mandate religious activities. In that case — School District of Abington Township v. Schempp — the activity at issue was reading the Bible. But the ruling goes for all religions.
In a June 17, 1963 opinion, then-Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark wrote that the subject of religion could still be taught in schools. He wrote: “It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”
A story that has been circulating on Facebook claiming that the Supreme Court recently ruled that public schools cannot teach Islam is false. Users of the social media site rightly flagged it as suspicious.
The story originated on a website called America’s Last Line of Defense, which describes its content as satire aimed at trolling conservatives. The site has a disclaimer that says everything on the site is “fiction.”
But, almost a year after it first appeared, the story is still getting picked up and posted by websites that have no such disclaimer.
The story says in part: “This rolls back an Obama regulation that forced children to learn about the ‘peaceful’ religion of Islam so they would be more tolerant of terrorists. The age of indoctrination is over.”
When the story first appeared back in April 2017, some conservatives were concerned that a public television project called “Access Islam” was actually an “Islamic indoctrination program for the public schools.” Martin Mawyer, founder of the Christian Action Network, started a petition on Change.org calling on the U.S. Department of Education to “dump” the program.
But Access Islam is a project of the New York-based public television station, THIRTEEN. It did receive funding from the Education Department to create the program, though.
This made-up story is similar to another one that originated on the same website, around the same time last year.
As we wrote at the time, that story falsely claimed that President Donald Trump’s appointee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote in the case and wrote the majority opinion for the court banning the teaching of Islam in public schools. When that story began circulating, Gorsuch had yet to hear his first case as a member of the court — let alone author an opinion.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp. 374 U.S. 203. Supreme Court of the U.S. 17 Jun 1963.
“BREAKING: Supreme Court Sides With Trump–This Changes Everything.” TheLastLineofDefense.org. 7 Apr 2017.
Mawyer, Martin. “Dump ‘Access Islam’ from Public Schools.” Change.org. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
Wallace, Caroline. “SCOTUS Didn’t Ban Teaching About Islam.” FactCheck.org. 21 Apr 2017.