The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) in Minnesota has been facing a civil lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by using taxpayer money to promote religion.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten reported on Saturday that the state-funded school has engaged in legal tactics that "have gone far beyond the usual rough-and-tumble of lawyers in our adversary system." Those tactics include a defamation counter-suit against the ACLU citing an official's statement that TiZA was "a theocratic school."
The defamation suit was dismissed by the court. Another chief tactic has been attempted intimidation of potential witnesses.
In January, the ACLU filed affidavits by a parent of a former TiZA student and a former TiZA staffer who claimed threats of violence were made against them related to the litigation. The ACLU also asked the court to quash a TiZA secrecy clause in its staff handbook that the ACLU claimed intimidated potential witnesses from testifying against the school. The court ordered the secrecy clause could not be enforced against any TiZA staff in connection with the ongoing suit.
TiZA is run by officials with the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS). In her affidavit, former office assistant Janeha Edwards said there is no distinction between the TiZA school and MAS.
"Their mail comes to the same mailbox, their faxes come through the same fax machine, and their telephone calls come to the same phone. MAS runs a daycare in the school building," she wrote. "MAS files and TIZA files are intermingled."
In an October 1 court order favoring the ACLU, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank questioned why the public charter school is trying to silence its employees:
"In addition, it should go without saying that, apart from the employment contract issue, intimidation and threats will not sit well with a fact-finder such as a jury. From what the Court can discern on the record currently before it, TiZA's behavior during the discovery process thus far in the case has not been consistent with a good faith search for the truth."
Though not a party to the lawsuit, MAS has tried to get the ACLU lawyers replaced, prompting Kersten to wonder whether the lawyers have information that could take the issue into deeper and more troubling areas. "Every time we read about this lawsuit," she concludes, "we have to pinch ourselves and say: We're talking about a public, taxpayer-funded school."