The 2014 Tennessee legislative session has finally come to an end and it has been an exciting year for ACO. With our continued presences representing the Muslim voice at the state capitol and in political matters, we have worked diligently to ensure that our community is heard. The Muslim voice is now playing an integral role in safeguarding the religious freedoms and civil liberties of all Tennesseans. As expected this year, we saw a decline in the number of bills that were directly targeting our community. However, proponents of unfavorable policies continue to be more strategic with the legislation they propose. As a result of ACO’s continued lobbying presence, we were able to amend every single bill that we opposed to ensure that they would not have a harmful effect on our community. None of this would have been possible without the tireless work of community leaders, strong allies, and everyone who took the time to get involved. For a list of all the bills ACO focused on this year, please click here.
As the 2014 election season nears and the next legislative session fast approaches, we ask that you please help continue the work of ACO with your financial support. Please click here to find out how you can help build our movement.
Our legislative battles in Tennessee regarding textbooks were not an isolated incident, but a part of a larger national movement led by known anti-Muslim hate groups targeting school districts across the southeast including Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
This movement led by ACT! for America has unsuccessfully tried in several states to attack the educational system by demanding the removal of textbooks that they deem biased. Due to their failure in other states, they shifted gears in Tennessee and went directly to the approval process of textbooks and curriculum content. Their demands included not only having representation on the state’s Textbook Review Commission, but also the removal of certain curriculum because of what they perceived as preferential treatment of Islam in textbooks.
We will continue to support our State in promoting an accurate education of all the diverse faiths and civilizations that make up the fabric of our society and history. However, we have serious concerns about the ultimate goals of these groups and their continuous efforts to remove material that does not fit their ideological or political agendas.
Censorship of Diversity in Textbooks:
In its original form, HB1129 sought to eliminate a section of the Tennessee code (TCA § 49-6-2202) that ensures history textbooks “portray the full range of diversity and achievement of racial and ethnic minorities as well as the role and importance of religion in history.”
After our collective action, in coordination with a broad coalition of educators, concerned parents, and citizens, the bill was rewritten and amended extensively. In its final form, the bill focuses only on teaching the United States Constitution, Tennessee Constitution, and other founding documents, and no longer deletes the section of the code that focuses on diversity.
Restructuring of the Textbook Review Commission:
SB1602/HB2249 overhauls the Textbook Review Commission and textbook selection process. Certain groups who led this effort wanted to censor textbooks that did not fit their agenda. A diverse coalition, including the Governor, TN Department of Education, and even the school board in Rep. Glen Casada’s district, who was the sponsor of the bill, came out in opposition of this bill.
Currently, the Textbook Review Commission, which has full control over the textbook selection process, is appointed entirely by the Governor. Six of the commissioners are required to be educators and the other three are involved in the school system in some way.
SB1602/HB2249 now calls for the Governor to appoint three commissioners, the Speaker of the Senate to appoint three, the Speaker of the House to appoint three, and the TN Department of Education to be an ex-officio secretary of the commission.
As introduced, the bill stated that textbooks must be “free from any biases in its viewpoints; and reflects the values of the citizens of this state.” We raised serious concerns about how this would be implemented and whether this would imply that the teaching of historical periods such as the Civil Rights era would be deemed as “bias” and unacceptable and the values of which citizens of Tennessee would be reflected in textbooks than others?
Thanks to our collective efforts, the final version of the bill was amended extensively and the language around “values” and “bias” were completely removed. Though many of our concerns were addressed, we will continue to monitor its implementation and work to ensure that the nomination process hears our concerns when potential candidates chosen to serve on the commission are those who have been at the forefront of continuously trying to deny and restrict religious freedom rights of American Muslims in Tennessee. Hate has no place in our classrooms.
CNN’s Inside Man to feature ACO’s work on May 11, 2014
Documentary/filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, of CNN’s Inside Man, spent a few days in Nashville this legislative session lobbying with our Director of Policy and Administration, Remziya Suleyman, for an upcoming segment that will focus on religion in America. The segment will air on May 11th and will showcase the work ACO is doing!
Moving Forward & Upcoming Elections
Though the legislative session is over, it is only the beginning of our work. Election season is here! Elected officials are beginning to campaign heavily in their respective districts and we are already hearing the anti-Muslim rhetoric being used by some. The Muslim community needs to continue being visible and at the forefront of all local politics.
We made a difference in many strategic races last year and we can achieve more this election year! As a first effort to defeat misguided promises that will be made during election season, we must continue staying engaged in this year’s elections. As a community, we have to encourage ourselves to avoid sitting on the sidelines, and instead take ownership of the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) process. Let’s promote voter registration, lead phone banking, and canvassing efforts and hit the polls on Election Day! Please be on the look out for ways you can stay connected and involved in our GOTV efforts this season. In the meantime, check out important voter information we have put together for your area.