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The United States Law Week

Islam in Public School Challenge Rejected by Supreme Court

Oct. 15, 2019, 1:35 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected what could have been a contentious high court showdown on the role of religion in public life.

The justices turned down the appeal from a Christian former high school student that challenged, on First Amendment grounds, coursework from her high school world history class that referenced Islam.

The case posed the latest U.S. Supreme Court test on the limits of religious liberty, following last term’s closely-watched decision allowing a war memorial cross to stand in the face of a First Amendment challenge.

In the case that the justices rejected today, Caleigh Wood argued that school officials endorsed Islam over Christianity and compelled her to profess a belief in Islam.

She pointed to two issues she had with her course at La Plata High School in Charles County, Md., during the 2014-15 school year: a statement in a PowerPoint slide that said most Muslims’ faith is stronger than the average Christian’s, and a fill-in-the-blank assignment that required students to write, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

Looking at the coursework materials in context, they didn’t violate Wood’s First Amendment rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said.

They didn’t “impermissibly endorse any religion and did not compel Wood to profess any belief,” the court said.

With the rejection of Wood’s appeal, that Fourth Circuit decision stands.

The case is Wood v. Arnold, U.S., 18-1438, review denied 10/15/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com