One might say that the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 charter school in suburban St. Paul is an Islamic school in all but name, except that that even its name is Islamic. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.
The ACLU Minnesota has brought a lawsuit challenging the legality of the school’s operation on public funds; the lawsuit is pending in federal court in Minnesota. Discussing the lawsuit, ACLU Minnesota executive director Chuck Samuelson observed: “The issue with TiZA, frankly, was the incredible commingling of church and state. It’s a theocratic school. It is as plain as the substantial nose on my face.”
As a result of Samuelson’s statement of the ACLU Minnesota’s position in the lawsuit, TiZA alleged that Samuelson and the ACLU had defamed it, asserting several counterclaims against the ACLU Minnesota for amounts in excess of $100,000 (i.e., an unlimited amount).
The ACLU Minnesota’s lawsuit against TiZA is predicated on the establishment clause of the First Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court. I was quite sure that there was another clause of the First Amendment that applied to TiZA’s counterclaims against the ACLU Minnesota, but even the common law of defamation provides that truth is a defense.
As I I anticipated, Minnesota federal district Judge Donovan Frank has now summarily dismissed TiZA’s counterclaims. In an order issued yesterday afternoon Judge Frank held that, as a public school, TiZA could not assert a claim for defamation.
As to the merits of TiZA’s defamation and defamation-related claims, Judge Frank held that “the allegedly defamatory statements all reflect Plaintiff’s belief [that TiZA is illegally operating as a religious school] and TiZA has alleged no facts that would demonstrate that Plaintiff entertains any doubts as to the truth of its statements.” TiZA therefore had “wholly failed” to allege facts making out the actual malice constitutionally required to support a claim of defamation by a public official or, Judge Frank holds, a public school.
In asserting its defamation and defamation-related counterclaims against Samuelson and the ACLU Minnesota, TiZA was taking a leaf from the old Islamist playbook written by CAIR. The irony in this case is that TiZA pretends to be a nonsectarian institution; it is this pretense that goes to the heart of the pending lawsuit.
I spoke briefly with Chuck Samuelson about Judge Frank’s order last night. He expressed the “hope that this counterclaim is really dead and that we can move this case along. These are issues that need to be aired and we await a speedy judgment.”
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