SAN FRANCISCO An attorney for two seventh-graders and their families argued to a federal appeals court that a Contra Costa County school district violated the students' rights by forcing them to adopt Muslim names and recite Islamic prayers in a role-playing exercise.
"The children were supposed to become Muslims. They were acting as a Muslim would act," attorney Edward White of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian defense organization, told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Oct. 19.
The families are appealing a 2003 ruling by a federal judge that the exercise was a permissible part of a history class, not indoctrination.
White argued that the exercise went too far and should be considered an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. He objected to students being told to wear name tags with religious symbols, a student-made classroom banner that praised Allah, and a requirement that students memorize and recite a passage from the Quran.
Attorneys for the Byron Union School District said the teacher was trying to instruct the students about Islam.
"There was nothing sacred or worshipful about any of the activities," attorney Linda Lye said.
Lye said students were asked to recite a line from a religious text, but did not kneel on prayer rugs or do anything else to suggest a solemn occasion.
The judges appeared inclined to side with the school, with Judge Dorothy Nelson saying the role-playing was designed "to make the historical lesson come alive."
Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and Carlos Bea compared the exercise to an earlier suit that challenged role-playing about witches, which the appeals court ruled permissible in 1994.