A federal court ruling in Minnesota clears the way for a lawsuit alleging a charter school operated by the Muslim American Society there is in violation of U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.
As we reported in January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. The lawsuit, also named the Minnesota Department of Education as a defendant. It claims TIZA operates substantially as a religious public school and in violation of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A judge dismissed the Department of Education from the suit but allowed claims against the school to continue.
On July 19, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer Katherine Kersten reported the ongoing ACLU lawsuit may shed light on the notably secretive TIZA. The school maintains a direct affiliation with the Muslim American Society in Minnesota (MAS-MN) and a MAS-linked property holding company is reportedly involved in providing funds from rent received from the state, to MAS-MN.
MAS was created as an American extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose stated goal is the establishment of a worldwide Islamic Caliphate under Sharia law. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the complaint alleges "MAS Minnesota Property Holding Corp. donates rent that it receives to MAS-MN, thus effectively transferring government funds intended by the State ... for charter schools to a sectarian organization devoted to the advancement of Islam."
The Star-Tribune noted the connection between Hassan Mohamud, an official of both TIZA and MAS-MN, and the Minnesota Dawah Institute in St. Paul, where he is the Imam. The Dawah Institute is the focus of an inquiry into the disappearances of a number of young Somali men who may have gone to Somalia to engage in the ongoing Islamic terror war being waged there.
A particularly important part of the Court's ruling specifically states the plaintiffs' establishment clause claims against TIZA are worthy of further litigation:
"...The Court also notes that, at least with respect to TIZA's motion, there are several alleged sectarian practices, such as TIZA's busing schedule, that TIZA does not address.
That not all allegedly sectarian practices and policies are addressed underscores the premature nature of TIZA's motion. It is inappropriate, at this early stage of the litigation, to dismiss Plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim, particularly because it requires an analysis of all the allegedly impermissible religious practices together.
For all of the above reasons, the Court concludes that the Establishment Clause violations asserted against both TIZA and Islamic Relief are sufficient so as to survive the pending motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)."
The Star-Tribune report notes TIZA officials have engaged in significant efforts to conceal their operations from public scrutiny, including a handbook that requires staff to refrain from publicly discussing the school's internal operations. The ACLU lawsuit, now that it is cleared by the Court to continue, may finally pry open some of TIZA's closely held secrets.
Meanwhile, TIZA sued the Minnesota Department of Education after a state inquiry revealed nearly two dozen TIZA teachers "lack proper licenses." TIZA claims in its lawsuit the State has refused to provide proper documentation so TIZA can defend itself against the allegations.
The state is withholding some $1.4 million in public funding as a result of the license issues. TIZA reportedly has an annual budget of $4 million in taxpayer funding and has already been penalized $125,000. A spokesman for TIZA claims any monetary penalties are "illegal" since the school has not exhausted the appeals process.
State officials made an unannounced inspection of TIZA in March, discovering 23 of 35 teachers weren't properly licensed. TIZA received time to fix the problem, but as of June 1, the State notified TIZA that 14 of its teachers remained out of compliance.
Curiously, the TIZA website has been out of service for the past several days. That site contained a segment listing the names of the school's teaching staff. The Minnesota Department of Education website contains a section that allows the public to query the licensure status of any teacher purportedly licensed in the state.
Asad Zaman, a defendant in the ACLU lawsuit, is identified as the director and at least one-time (possibly current) principal of TIZA. Minnesota Department of Education records reveal Zaman possessed a license allowing him to be a "short call substitute" and that license expired on June 30, 2007.
TIZA claims the license matter, involving some 14 of its teachers, is the result of confusion, misspelled names and clerical errors that were not its fault. Presumably, TIZA places that blame on the Minnesota Department of Education - the very governmental entity responsible for issuing teacher's licenses. Is it reasonable to believe more than a dozen teachers in one school have improper or no licenses and the school administration has no knowledge of such issue? Is the public to believe the TIZA school administration, including the principal himself who appears to have an expired license, has no responsibility to verify the credentials of its teaching staff?
TIZA's lawsuit appears to involve school officials attempting to shift blame, publicly diffuse the real issue with generic diversions and claim it is all a misunderstanding. As the lawsuits proceed, we'll get to see.