JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The leader of a Muslim advocacy group on Thursday described an attack ad that asserts that Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill supports teaching about Islam in school as "blatantly Islamophobic" and said he hopes McCaskill's opponent will condemn it.
At issue is a Stars & Stripes Forever PAC radio ad that features a girl telling her father that she's learning about Islam for two weeks in school, adding that her teacher says she's not allowed to teach about Jesus' teachings.
"U.S. schools don't teach enough math, English and history. And what they do teach often isn't true," a narrator in the ad said. "But liberal Democrats like Claire McCaskill support teaching about Islam. After all, if our kids think all religions are the same, they're not likely to choose any of them."
What's taught in public schools in the U.S. is generally left up to states and local educators. Public schools are allowed to teach about religion provided the instruction is neutral and does not advocate for a religion. The ad does not cite any policy or vote McCaskill has taken that might indicate she explicitly backs instruction on Islam in schools.
Faizan Syed, the executive director of the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was "really taken aback just by how blatantly Islamophobic" the ad is. He said his group hopes to meet with McCaskill's Republican challenger, Attorney General Josh Hawley, to discuss the issue.
"Even though he's not the one that's running the ad or anything of this nature, I think any politician should publicly condemn these types of political strategy," Syed said.
Hawley at a campaign event Thursday in St. Charles said he had not heard the ad but that he's against "any kind of discrimination on the basis of religion or any other factor."
"Look, I can only control the ads that I put on television and I've been very clear about what I believe," Hawley said.
McCaskill is among 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election in November in states won by President Donald Trump .
McCaskill campaign spokeswoman Meira Bernstein also called on Hawley to condemn the ad.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat and Muslim who is a surrogate for McCaskill, on Thursday said the tone of the ad is of "bigotry and hatred."
The political action committee that ran the ad was originally formed to support U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson's unsuccessful presidential campaign. According to its website , it now hopes to persuade black voters to support Republican candidates. A request for comment to the PAC was not immediately returned.
Federal Election Commission records show the PAC has spent about $44,500 so far against McCaskill in 2017 and 2018 — a fraction of the multimillion-dollar spending by both campaigns and other outside groups.