TiZA families seek to join in legal fight over religion at school

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • March 12, 2010 - 9:34 AM

In a formal move to join the legal battle over religion at their school, several families at Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) have asked a judge to let them intervene as parties in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

The ACLU claims that the charter school, which has locations in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, has violated the U.S. Constitution by crossing the line between religion and public education.

But in a motion filed Wednesday, 10 Muslim students and four of their parents argue that the ACLU is seeking to eliminate "democratically and legally obtained" religious accommodations, such as pork alternatives on the lunch menu, a conservative dress code and the time and space to pray at school.

"The accommodations offered at TiZA are the same accommodations the [families] believe are required at TiZA and are the same accommodations the [ACLU] alleges are prohibited at TiZA," the motion said.

"Basically, TiZA is being sued for the Muslim-ness of its students," it said.

The families seek to join the lawsuit as parties, which would allow them to conduct discovery, file motions and otherwise assert their rights, said their attorney, Erick Kaardal. They do not propose to file any counterclaims, he said.

The ACLU exists to defend the Constitution, said Teresa Nelson, legal counsel with the ACLU. "For them to suggest that we are somehow trying to get a decision that would violate the Constitution -- frankly, that's unwarranted," she said.

If families feel that their rights to religious accommodation are being violated, she said, "the appropriate venue for them is to initiate a civil action against TiZA."

In court documents, parents said they send their children to the school for a quality education, not religion, but still want their families' religious needs to be met. The school is a "safe, non-sectarian, cultural learning environment for immigrant families" and should not be closed, they said.

Several said they were unhappy because, in response to a state investigation, the school has reduced the time set aside on Fridays for Muslim students to pray, from 30 minutes to 10 minutes.

"The ACLU lawsuit threatens more reductions," said Javed Mohammad, who has two sons at TiZA, in a court document.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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