DARBY – Darby School received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Foundation on Tuesday urging the board to reconsider its requirement that students have parental permission slips to attend a presentation on Islam.
University of Montana professor Samir Bitar will present “Perspectives on Islam” to high school students in a social studies class Wednesday as part of the Darby Community Library’s Life-Long Learning Series.
ACLU of Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann and Legal Director Jim Taylor sent a letter to the Darby School attorney Elizabeth Kaleva. The letter expressed the organization’s dismay at the school requiring parental permission for high school students to attend Bitar’s presentation.
“We applaud the Darby School Board’s decision to invite University of Montana Professor Samir Bitar to discuss Islam at the Darby School,” Taylor wrote. “Requiring parental permission implicitly gives credence to anti-Muslim bias by suggesting that there is something controversial about Professor Bitar's presentation. It is unfortunate that the students whose parents refuse to let them attend are likely those who most need to hear this lecture, to counter messages like this one, quoted in the Ravalli Republic: ‘Once (Muslims) come over (to the U.S.) they’ll take over. Their goal is to kill everyone who is not Muslim.’”
Taylor continued, “In our opinion, the School Board can only require permission slips for students to attend Professor Bitar’s lecture if it also requires permission slips for discussion of any other religious topic, and if the school has consistently done so in the past.”
Kaleva said timing was the main issue facing the school.
“The initial problem is the lecture is tomorrow and by law we would not have enough time to have a meeting, so the board can’t do that,” Kaleva said. “The opt-in permission slip is for all three presentations. I appreciate Mr. Taylor’s letter, but the board can’t meet before the event. The board could, in the future, discuss ‘opting out’ as the policy, but for this speaker series all three speakers were treated the same.”
The permission slip also covered talks by two other speakers from Humanities Montana scheduled to give presentations at both the school and community library.