A federal judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Chatham mother who says the school district forced her son to watch Islamic conversion videos and ignored the study of Christianity and Judaism.
Libby Hilsenrath filed the lawsuit, on behalf of her child (identified as C.H. in the suit), against the Chatham School District and Board of Education, as well as the superintendent, assistant superintendent, middle school principal, Social Studies supervisor, and two Social Studies teachers.
Judge Kevin McNulty said in the decision, on a motion filed by the school district's attorney to dismiss the lawsuit, that the "untested" scenario merits further exploration.
"As a lawsuit, this matter may present controversial issues," McNulty said in the 9-page opinion issued June 13. "As a motion to dismiss, it does not. There will be opportunity enough to consider the substantive issues when evidence has been developed in discovery and the facts have been developed."
McNulty also advised the two sides to talk about reducing the number of defendants in the case.
"They may wish to focus in particular on the necessity, and the pedagogical ramifications, of retaining the two defendants who are middle school social studies teachers," the judge wrote.
An attorney for the Chatham School District did not return a call for comment.
"This ruling comes as no surprise, said Kate Oliveri, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center who is handling the case. "The motion to dismiss was a further attempt by the school district to bully and silence Mrs. Hilsenrath. The school district ignored the legal standard and ignored the facts, attempting instead to fool the judge with a poor attempt at sophistry."
The Thomas More Law Center is a national, non-profit conservative Christian law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Hilsenrath filed the lawsuit in January on behalf of her then-12-year-old son who was taking a World Cultures and Geography class at Chatham Middle School during the 2016-2017 school year. The boy was forced to watch two videos and do a worksheet that promote and advance the Islamic religion under the threat of lower grades, she alleges in the suit.
An "Intro to Islam Video" and "The 5 Pillars of Islam" were assigned for students to watch at home, without supervision, and did not include a disclaimer that the content does not represent the views or opinions of the school district, the lawsuit says.
Students also had to do a fill-in-the-blank version of the shahada, the Islamic conversion creed and prayer, which contained a link to a webpage that explains "the ease with which they could convert to become Muslim," the lawsuit says.