The Council on American-Islamic Relations has done a grave disservice to the city of Lewiston and its school department.
Rather than taking the time to do the most basic fact-finding to determine whether prayer is permitted in the city's public schools, CAIR issued a serious complaint and made four precise demands on the district last week, and then announced its action through a mass e-mail to the nation's media before even sharing its concerns with Lewiston school officials.
The entire episode reeks of highlighting CAIR's agenda, not advocating for a student who believed she'd been wrongly denied the right to pray in school.
CAIR describes itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organizations." Too bad it's not also America's most responsible Muslim advocacy organization.
The very definition of "advocacy" is to advise and guide. Not accuse and demand. CAIR's decision to go public with its complaints before any effort was made to work out its differences with Lewiston school officials did more harm than good for the city's Muslim population. But, by CAIR's own admission, that's how the organization operates:
Accuse first. Communicate second.
It's a fact that seventh-grader Nasra Aden believed she had been told by a Lewiston Middle School teacher that she could not pray in school. It's also a fact that Lewiston schools do not permit kneeling in prayer in building corridors for safety reasons.
These facts together do not mean students are not permitted to pray in school. It just means they have to do so within the school's safety guidelines, which is entirely appropriate in our public schools.
Was there a misunderstanding between what the young woman was told, what she heard, what her family understood and what was conveyed to CAIR? Clearly, there was.
But a simple misunderstanding does not a controversy make.
CAIR grabbed hold of this misunderstanding and days later kicked it into what its national communication director termed a "controversy." There's no controversy here. There's a misunderstanding that developed through a distorted trail of conversation which would have been better resolved with questions instead of accusations.
The district already does everything CAIR demands: Muslims can and do pray on school property; the district follows No Child Left Behind guidelines for religious accommodation; the district's civil rights teams are active and ensure students don't face retaliation because of their faith; and district staff routinely receives diversity training.
Lewiston schools have done extraordinary work in accommodating the in-migration of the city's Muslim community since 2001, including more than tripling its English Language Learning program to facilitate communication which, in turn, hastens learning.
If CAIR really looked at the programs and policies in Lewiston's schools regarding education and freedoms of the city's Muslim students, it would recognize solid, respectful, responsive and appropriate practices. It did not, preferring instead to manufacture a controversy.
CAIR's letter of complaint and rack of demands was bait. It was not advocacy.