When Pastor Herb Mays learned that his 13-year-old granddaughter was learning about the five pillars of Islam in her social studies class, he immediately pulled her out of the Westmoreland, Tennessee middle school.
"It says Allah is the creator. He's the god who created us all. I don't believe Allah created the heavens and the earth, so I have a problem with this being taught to children in the school," he said.
Mays served his country in the Vietnam War where he earned a silver star and the purple heart, so he's particularly passionate about losing certain freedoms while other agendas are shoved down his family's throat. And that's the exact situation that Mays finds himself in when the Christian Bible has been banned from schools, yet world religion is a mandatory course at his granddaughter's middle school.
"We don't teach the Bible [in school]," said Mays, now the pastor of Hosanna Church in Portland, Tennessee. "We can't carry the Bible anymore to school. We can't pray in school. So I'm upset that the seventh-grade social studies class is learning about the Quran."
In 1960, Madalyn Murray O'Hare sued the Baltimore City Public School System to challenge the reading of bibles in public schools. The lawsuit eventually reached the Supreme Court in 1963 and the highest court in the land rules in favor of the atheist activist.
Since then, a series of lawsuits has dwindled away any shadow of the Bible and Christianity in public schools under the guise of a "separation of church and state" ideal that isn't even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. So you can understand why a mandatory teaching of the Quran would upset a pastor who has been around long enough to see the irony in allowing one holy book to be considered taboo while another is promoted and deemed mandatory learning.
According to the Tennessee State Board of Education, the new social studies standards that have made the teaching of world religions mandatory for all seventh-graders was approved in 2013. Of course, "world religions" doesn't include Christianity, which is another point of contention for Mays and other concerned parents. Although the school district's website lists Old and New Testament topics for the sixth-grade study, a spokesman for the board said that "it is up to each school district to choose the curriculum, text books and how much time is spent on each religion." So this may be more a problem with a particular teacher pushing an agenda rather than the district itself creating a double-standard.
Mays' granddaughter, a straight-A student at the school, says that she wasn't the only one bothered by what was being taught. She says that other students in the class felt uncomfortable with the subject matter.
"We had to learn the five pillars of Islam and their beliefs and practices and what they have to do and all what they believe in," she said. "It didn't feel right doing this.
"It just made me feel it wasn't right doing all this stuff and learning what they believe because it's not what I know and it just didn't feel right," she continued.
As for pulling his granddaughter out of the school, Mays felt like it was the only way to get his point across. "I think what's wrong with the world today is that good people don't stand up and evil prevails," Mays said. "And so I'm just making a stand."
"Yes, I think it's a radical stand; I really do. But I stand up for what I believe in."