NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A state Republican lawmaker is proposing legislation that would ban teaching Tennessee public school students "religious doctrine" until they're in high school.
The Tennessean reports the proposal from Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia would prohibit the teaching of anything deemed religious doctrine unless the course is taught in 10th, 11th or 12th grade.
The measure comes on the heels of complaints from some parents in several communities as to what their children are learning in middle school about Islam.
"I think that probably the teaching that is going on right now in seventh, eighth grade is not age appropriate," Butt said. "They are not able to discern a lot of times whether its indoctrination or whether they're learning about what a religion teaches."
Parents in Williamson County, Maury County and several other areas have complained about information contained in courses related to world history. Some, like U.S. Rep Diane Black, R-Tenn., argue the teachings border on indoctrination.
Tennessee education officials and teachers recently argued courses were appropriate and based on secular fact during a discussion of the curriculum with The Tennessean. They acknowledged students might learn the Five Pillars of Islam or read from religious texts, but that information is used to provide historical context about the influence the religion had on regions of the world.
"The reality is the Muslim world brought us algebra, 'One Thousand and One Nights,' and some can argue it helped bring about the Renaissance," Metro Nashville Public Schools social studies teacher Kyle Alexander recently told The Tennessean. "There is a lot of influence that that part of the world had on world history."
Butt, a longtime Sunday school teacher, said her bill isn't specifically aimed at Islam and that it wouldn't ban mentioning any religion at the middle school level. According to the bill, if a religion is mentioned in middle school curriculum, then it is up to the state board of education to make sure "the reference does not amount to teaching any form of religious doctrine to the students."
The concept of "religious doctrine" is never defined in Tennessee law. There is a reference to the concept in a portion of the law related to using the Bible in school. The law says the Bible may be used in class, as long as the course doesn't include "teaching of religious doctrine or sectarian interpretation of the Bible or of texts from other religious or cultural traditions."
It's unclear how Butt's legislation would affect current law.
Butt's proposal also requires that any teaching of "comparative religion" in high school not focus more on one religion than another.
After some backlash, Department of Education Commissioner Candace McQueen recently announced that the state would speed up its timeline for reviewing social studies standards.