A woman is suing her son’s school for showing an educational YouTube clip about Islam that she calls a “conversion video.”
Libby Hilsenrath filed a federal lawsuit against officials at School District of the Chathams in New Jersey on Tuesday. According to the complaint, Hilsenrath claims her son was subjected to watching two videos that “call for conversion of seventh grade students” to the Muslim faith.
In January 2017, Hilsenrath’s 12-year-old son received an assignment to watch two YouTube videos for his world studies class.
One video, titled “5 minutes[sic] introduction to Islam,” is filled with “proselytizing statements” she claims, like “Allah is the one God” and “God gave [Muhammad] the Noble Quran[.]” (These statements are verses from the Quran.) It also shows pictures and facts about Islamic art and architecture, and references countries where Islam is practiced.
Hilsenrath took specific issue with the song playing in the background called “Qasida Burda.” It is the musical version of al-Burda, a centuries old poem dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad. The New Jersey mother claims that the song describes Christians and Jewish people as “infidels.” (Christians and Jews are not explicitly called infidels in the text.)
The lawsuit also references an image at the end of the video that says, “May God help us all find the true faith, Islam. Ameen.” Hilsenrath cites this as evidence that the school was trying to convert her son to Islam.
The second video, a cartoon, shows two children talking about the five pillars of Islam. Hilsenrath said that the Chatham Middle School officials “coerced the children” to watch the videos, which were mandatory for students taking the class. A disclaimer precedes the clip, stating “the following is an Islamic educational presentation for primary and secondary schools.”
Hilsenrath, along with another parent, appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in February 2017 where she claimed the school discriminated against Christianity. “It teaches one religion, and not others. To me, that’s not education.” Hilsenrath also said that schools should be able to also say that “Jesus is the truth and the light.”
The New Jersey resident’s complaint also claimed that her son’s Social Studies program did not teach Christianity or assign Bible readings. Hilsenrath is suing for “nominal damages.”
“The Board of Education and other Defendants are waging a war against the religious protections afforded by the First Amendment. They attack religious liberty by enticing young school children with a direct call to convert to Islam and providing a step-by-step guide on how to effect that conversion. The Thomas More Law Center will fight to protect these children, including Mrs. Hilsenrath’s son, from such an atrocious violation of the Constitution,” said Kate Oliveri, a lawyer from the center.
Chatham County schools declined to comment, but pointed The Daily Beast to the school board’s president last year who called Hilsenrath’s claims “patently false.”
Thomas More Law Center represents Hilsenrath in the case. The Michigan-based center sued Michigan health officials in 2016 on behalf of a nurse who did not want to distribute vaccinations because of her religious beliefs.
The center’s website bears the slogan “Battle Ready to Defend America.” The firm’s purpose states that it intends to “persevere America’s Judeo-Christian heritage” and protect “religious freedom” in the country.