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Anti-Muslim Accusations Fly as Tennessee Debates Best Age for Religious Education

A girl holds up a sign during a rally by members of the Muslim community of Madrid outside Madrid's Atocha train station, January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the victims of a shooting by gunmen at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and against Islamophobia. The words on the birds read, 'Peace, Respect, Love, Tolerance and Coexistence'.
A girl holds up a sign during a rally by members of the Muslim community of Madrid outside Madrid's Atocha train station, January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the victims of a shooting by gunmen at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and against Islamophobia. The words on the birds read, "Peace, Respect, Love, Tolerance and Coexistence". | (Photo: Reuters/Juan Medina)

Tennessee Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, has been called an "anti-Muslim bigot" by an advocacy group for introducing a bill that seeks to delay the teaching of religious doctrine in public schools until after 9th grade. The bill could be in response to parents complaining about Islamic indoctrination of their children.

"I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate," Butt said, according to the Times Free Press. "They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they're learning about what a religion teaches."

Parents from Williamson County, Maury County, and a number of other areas have apparently been complaining that their children are required to learn the Five Pillars of Islam in world history courses, which includes the Islamic conversion creed.

Tennessee education officials have rejected the accusation that they are supporting indoctrination, however, and said that it is information students need to know about the religions of the world.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations accused Butt of introducing the bill out of "fear and bigotry."

"Islamophobes like Rep. Butt fail to recognize that there is a big difference between teaching students about religion as an important part of world history and promoting particular religious beliefs," CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw said in a statement, according to The Tennessean.

"The education of children in Tennessee should not be delayed because of anti-Muslim bigotry."

Butt insisted that the bill is not aimed at any one particular religion, and wants teachers to steer clear from any religious indoctrination in the classrooms.

"It is interesting that CAIR would comment on my bill since the legislation never even mentions a particular religion, but instead explicitly states that no religion shall be emphasized or focused on over any other," Butt said on Monday.

"The bill calls for comparative religion to be taught in high school and simply addresses the balance and age-appropriateness of teaching religion in Tennessee public schools."

Conservative groups, such as The American Center for Law and Justice, have claimed that Islamic indoctrination is growing into a "nationwide epidemic" in America.

The law group said last week that it has received as many as 7,000 calls from Tennessee residents who have complained that students are being required to learn Islamic ideology.

"For the last several years, parents from across the country have contacted the ACLJ — from California to Maine — concerned about the teaching of Islam in their local schools. It seems that many schools may be going well beyond simply teaching about a religion. From disparate treatment of religions, to distortion of truth, the teaching of Islam seems entrenched with problems," the law group wrote.

In light of the controversy, Department of Education Commissioner Candace McQueen has said that the state would hasten its review of social studies standards.

"The intent of the specific social studies standards in question is to focus on building students' cultural competence and instilling a deep understanding of how world religions impact world history," McQueen explained.

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