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Conference on Future of Religious Freedom in America

Can we uphold religious freedom for Americans of all faiths and none in the coming decades?

The United States is today the most religiously diverse society on Earth and, among developed countries, the most religious. Expanding religious pluralism combined with culture wars involving religious differences are making our public square a sometimes hostile arena. To explore how Americans might extend the promise of religious freedom more fully and fairly, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in collaboration with the First Amendment Center convened a group of religious leaders, scholars, legal experts, journalists and educators in October 2005 for a two-day dialogue about the future of religious freedom in America. Participants identified areas of general agreement and recommended the following: update and widely disseminate consensus guidelines on religion and public schools; develop and disseminate a consensus statement on the role of religion in the public square under current law; develop and disseminate guidance on religious accommodation in the workplace; provide First Amendment education for public officials; convening a working group on international religious freedom; and encourage civil discourse and civic responsibility across religious and ideological differences.

IRCV has worked in partnership with the First Amendment Center, endorsing consensus guidelines on religion in the public schools and disseminating them through our work. We have been invited to participate in several leadership conferences on religious freedom, including this conference. The event’s report records our contribution to the discussion, highlighting Shabbir Mansuri’s comment that “What we’re trying to do here collectively is to provide a civic framework for the communities to sort our their own differences…I should not ask the other side to change their mind; that’s not the idea. But we can engage one another with civility and respect.” In response, Colby May of the American Center for Law and Justice remarked “What Shabbir and I have been able to recognize is that he holds within himself some very wonderful convictions that I do too…I think it is part of having an ordered liberty and a civil society.” The exchange provided a clear example of how Americans can in fact live with deep differences even as they explore commonalities.

For more information: {link to post – OSCE News item}

Rosen Publishing Books on Muslim Scientists

Can we teach students about Muslim scholars who contributed to scientific progress?

Rosen Publishing, based in New York, produces high-quality reference materials aimed at school and public libraries. In 2006, the publishing house produced an exquisite series of six books for middle school and above titled Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages. Each richly illustrated book focuses on a particular individual — Al-Khawarizmi, Al-Kindi, Al-Biruni, Al-Zahrawi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd. Collectively, they provide an expansive picture of Muslim scientific efforts and society over the centuries. The series received a Non-Fiction Honorable Mention award from the Middle East Outreach Council (MEOC).

IRCV was contracted to review each manuscript during the production of this series. Over several months, we thoroughly evaluated the academic details, as well as the overall framing of the presentation. The publisher incorporated many of our recommendations to improve and clarify the language. The goal was to help readers see this aspect of Muslim history as part of our shared heritage.

For more information: Rosen Publishing

OSCE Bridging Histories

Will European education guidelines help reduce discrimination and promote understanding?

The European Union, in light of increasing religious and cultural diversity, is exploring ways to foster inclusiveness and diminish racism and discrimination. In 2008, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published a report called The Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools. The document, akin to guidelines produced in the U.S. a decade earlier, supports teaching about religion in a neutral, respectful fashion as part of the education curricula in the 56 OSCE member states. Stemming from this, IRCV was invited to OSCE headquarters in Warsaw, Poland as a U.S. participant on an Editorial Board overseeing the production of a booklet addressing intolerance against Muslims in Europe. The project evolved into the 2009 “Bridging Histories” initiative, which aims to produce teaching materials for formal and non-formal education that highlights the history of relations between Christianity and Islam from different perspectives. The project encourages discussion on the plurality of historical experiences.

IRCV contributed substantial components to the “Bridging Histories” foundational documents, including an overview of consensus-building in the U.S. on teaching about religion, and a summary of historical and evolving Western views of Islam.

For more information: IRCV addresses Biblical scholars in Rome regarding Toledo Guiding Principles

First Amendment Guides

Is there national consensus on teaching about religion in public schools?

The First Amendment Center, an important forum for the exploration of free-expression issues, has been instrumental in the search for common ground on issues related to the exercise of religion and public education. In the late 1990s, the center spearheaded the development of constitutional and educational guidelines for teaching about religion. Our organization was invited to collaborate in the drafting of several informative guides: A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools, The Bible & Public Schools, and A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools, and Religious Liberty, Public Education, and the Future of American Democracy: A Statement of Principles. These materials have been endorsed by numerous civic, educational and faith organizations, reflecting consensus on the importance of academic study of religion and of affirming the rights of students of all faiths and none. Collectively, the guides convey that religion may not be promoted in school practices and policies, nor may public schools be entirely religion-free zones.

We have employed the guidelines in our academic reviews, our resources for educators, and in our training programs. IRCV has played a significant role in disseminating the guidelines to educators nationwide as well as internationally through engagement with participants in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program.

For more information: {link to post – Resources: Guides}

California Textbook Adoption

How well do new textbooks meet the state standards?

In 2005, California’s Curriculum Commission held a series of education board meetings and public hearings to evaluate new history-social studies textbooks for adoption and use in the state’s schools. The textbooks were the first to be designed according to the California standards issued several years earlier. In line with our previous assessments of national and state standards for world history, we produced a 104 page assessment of the textbook programs submitted for adoption. In our scholarly evaluation, we focused both on how well the textbooks implemented the standards for world history, reflected current scholarship in fields informing world history, and adhered to constitutional guidelines for teaching about world religions.

Our review helped decision makers evaluate the textbooks’ respective academic merits, and helped them distinguish between legitimate and unsubstantiated demands made by special interest groups in the public hearings.

For more information: Programs Submitted for California History-Social Science Adoption (2005)

Teaching About Religion

In its inclusion of religion in state and national standards, the United States serves as a positive model for the world. Putting this vision into practice, however, will require better teacher training and more thoughtful curriculum planning.

Published in the ASCD magazine Educational Leadership in October 2002.

The Hijab Between Secularism and Piety

The purpose of this lesson is to elicit discussion on the contemporary meaning of hijab and the various reactions it draws from different cultures.

This lesson is provided free of charge. The lesson is based on a reading selected from a contemporary journalistic source. CIE is in no way affiliated with the author or publisher of the source. The source was utilized solely for its value as an educational tool.

Frontline: Muslims

The lesson packet bridges between the constraints of a documentary video production and the needs of the classroom. A correlation demonstrates that the materials meet content standards and skills mandates cited in state and national curriculum documents. They provide preparatory material that helps students get the most out of viewing part or all of the film with vocabulary, note-taking pages, as well as pre- and post-viewing questions for comprehension and critical analysis and assessment.

The background lessons on Islamic beliefs and Muslim history can supplement or replace textbook units on Islam. They include a glossary of key terms, an overview of the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, a biography of Muhammad, and a reading on Muslim history from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Map activities include the spread of Islam and its contemporary distribution in the world. A geography project outline completes the second group of lessons.

The third group of lessons explores Islamic law and contemporary social issues. They can be used alone in any unit on historical and contemporary Islam, or in conjunction with all or parts of the Frontline:Muslims film. Topics addressed in the interactive lessons include the basic principles and practice of Islamic law, a comparative document study activity on human rights, including religious tolerance, a primary and secondary source analysis activity on marriage and women’s rights, a current events lesson incorporating the issue of official policies on wearing hijab (Muslim women’s dress), a set of overhead transparencies and handouts on the subject of jihad and terrorism in Islamic law, and an activity exploring the civic and religious dimensions of interactions among adherents of world faiths in the context of American life. Students also explore Muslim values through analysis of quotations from the Frontline: Muslims film.

Learn more about the film at PBS.org
Order the DVD at Independent Production Fund

Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

This lesson is designed to increase comprehension and appreciation of the National Gallery of Art brochure Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World, and the accompanying informational labels on featured works in the National Gallery of Art’s permanent collection. Reading comprehension activities help students understand the background essay about the context of cultural exchange between Europeans and others in the eastern hemisphere during the century before 1500. Through picture study, students learn to identify the evidence of these exchanges in the art objects and correlate them to the larger context of interaction among cultures over a long and formative period of world history.