Public Charter School Accused of Being a Religious School

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights.  Star Tribune columnist, Katherine Kirsten, writes that, "Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food - permissible under Islamic law -- and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day."  School buses don't leave until after extracurricular activities at the school, including Islamic Studies is over.  In the article, Kirsten cites teacher Amanda Getz as a source on what happens in the school, including prayer led by administration and teachers in the gym, teachers escorting students to perform ritual washing and the treatment of Islamic Studies as a part of regular coursework. 

Minnesota Atheists strongly value our Constitution and the Establishment Clause.  While, at this time, it is unclear whether there has been any Constitutional violation, and further investigation is necessary, Minnesota Atheists would be concerned about a misuse of public funds for religious activities.  By protecting the secular nature of public education, the rights of citizens of any faith, and of no faith are upheld.  We support any effort to ensure citizens, especially children citizens, are not discriminated against by our government.

If you have further information about TIZA, or are aware of potential violations of the Establishment Clause in public education, please write to us at  We have experienced members who could point you in the right direction if further action seems warranted.


Congress Passes Over 140 Overtly Religious Earmarks Worth Almost $30 Million

The Secular Coalition for America has researched the budget for fiscal year 2008 which was passed by congress and determined that over 140 earmarks , or special directed funding to a project, worth almost $30 million dollars, are going to constitutionally suspect religious activities.  Before you blame the "religious right," both parties favor religious earmarks.  Some of the largest recipients of earmarks for religious activities include higher education institutions and addiction recovery programs, including Minnesota Teen Challenge*.  Minnesota Teen Challenge is closely tied with the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal organization.  Richard Scherber, Executive Director in 2004, had this to say about the success of his treatment facility; "The combination of our program length, our curriculum and most importantly, the role of faith in Jesus Christ to change hearts, all come together to result in these renewed lives." Ministries are also among groups receiving federal dollars.

The Secular Coalition for America has sent a letter to members of Congress who are responsible for these potentially unconstitutional funding projects.  These activities are clear evidence that Faith-based Initiatives and Charitable Choice must be rejected by the next President to ensure an equal playing field between secular organizations and religious organizations which play by the rules and those who do not and violate the seperation of church and state.

*Minnesota Teen Challenge Director of Administration, Eric Vagle, has provided this statement in response to allegations that any federal monies will be used by his organization for religious purposes:

“Minnesota Teen Challenge is scheduled to receive a direct grant from the federal government to be used exclusively for a non-religious drug and alcohol abuse prevention program.  This program contains no religious content whatsoever and has been presented to over 30,000 junior and senior high school students across the state.  Minnesota Teen Challenge is aware of, and in agreement with the constitutional restrictions placed on receipt of government funds.  We take great care to ensure that all federal money is strictly accounted for and that none of the dollars are ever used for religious purposes.”


PZ Myers, Biology Professor from UMN Morris Removed From 'Expelled,' a Creationist Film Screening

No, we don't mean to imply PZ Myers, a biology professor from the University of Minnesota, Morris, was removed from the footage in the film which had the title "Crossroads," and was to be about religion and science.  PZ Myers, who appears in the film, and is thanked in the credits, was removed from an advanced screening of the film while he was in line with his family, and a few guests.  Free tickets were provided to interested guests, and PZ registered in advance under his own name.

Dr. Richard Dawkins, who was in town for the American Atheists National Conference in Minneapolis, was a guest of PZ Myers that evening, and was not expelled from "Expelled."   PZ Myers was asked by a security guard to leave the theater on request of the film's producer, or else he could be arrested.  When he checked in with his family to coordinate where to meet after the film, he was told to leave immediately.  Good natured that PZ Myers is, he complied.  Unfortunately for the producer, PZ Myers contributes to a blog with an extremely high Alexa rating, and posted his tale from the Apple Store at the mall.  

Also in attendance were fellow Minnesota Atheists who provided their own account. Kristine Harley can be read here .  Mike Haubrich sounds off here.  Greg Laden has collected various links to the story here.  Among them, The New York Times, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, and  A bit of art from Digital Cuttlefish has been drafted in honor of the event.

To hear the tale from Dr. Dawkins and PZ Myers in a pleasant, conversational tone, please watch the video provided by the Official Richard Dawkins website

Mark Mathis could not have been better at providing so much negative attention to an already struggling movie.  By exposing the tactics of the producer in a highly ironic way, a larger segment of the public should recognize the value in the scientific method, rather then theologically-based teaching of Intelligent Design Creationism.



KARE Profiles the American Atheists Convention in Minneapolis

KARE 11 featured a video on the American Atheists Convention taking place the weekend of March 21 to 23.  Minnesota Atheists Chairman, Steve Petersen, is interviewed for a bit about atheism.  So far, the conference has been a sucess, featuring interesting debates, and discussions in the hallways between fellow atheists.  You can read about the story here.

KSTP features MN Atheists and the American Atheists Convention

August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, one of "5 People Making News," was interviewed by KSTP about the mission of Minnesota Atheists and about the upcoming American Atheists Conference kicking off with free entertainment Thursday night, and featuring Richard Dawkins on Friday morning.  Minnesota Atheists seek to educate the community about atheism, create a network of friends who share similar thinking about supernatural claims, and promote the seperation of church and state.  To watch the video, please visit KSTP here.

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