On 7 April 2017, the web site USA Politics Today published a report, followed by a series of posts from questionable web sites, saying that the United States Supreme Court had ruled it illegal for U.S. schools to teach “Sharia law”:
The Supreme Court of the United States just sided with President Trump in a landmark case the mainstream media hasn’t been reporting on.
On behalf of Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education, Trump’s legal team has petitioned the court to make America safer, starting with our children.
In a 5-3 decision that wasn’t a difficult interpretation of the constitution, the high court ruled that public schools in this country will NOT teach the tenets of Islam or Sharia law.
In reality, the high court has not considered the matter of Sharia law, a set of Islamic religious principles that various scholars and governments interpret differently. Sharia — or the fear of it — has been the subject of several anti-Muslim claims, including one stating that President Donald Trump had banned it nationwide.
Following Justice Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the court on 10 April 2017, some versions of the story falsely cast him as the “decisive vote” in a 5-4 ruling on the issue. These versions also tended to include a statement, in all-caps, from his supposed first opinion for the court:
THE GOVERNMENT CERTAINLY HAS NO BUSINESS BEING INVOLVED IN RELIGION, BUT THIS ISN’T A GOVERNMENT ISSUE OR A RELIGIOUS ISSUE. THIS IS ABOUT THE JUDICIAL BRANCH INTERPRETING THE LAWS AS THEY APPLY TO THE TEACHING OF RELIGION. WE SHOULD [sic] BE TEACHING ANY RELIGIONS IN THIS COUNTRY BESIDES STANDARD JUDEO-CHRISTIANITY, AS OUR FOUNDERS WANTED, AND WE CERTAINLY SHOULDN’T BE FILLING THE CHILDREN WITH LIES ABOUT ISLAM BEING A “RELIGION OF PEACE” WHEN THEY SEE THE CARNAGE ON THE NEWS ALMOST EVERY DAY. IT IS OUR DUTY AS AMERICANS FIRST AND JUDGES SECOND TO SAFEGUARD THE WAY OUR CHILDREN ARE INDOCTRINATED.
Gorsuch, who was appointed by Trump, did not cast his first vote until 20 April 2017, when he joined four other justices in denying a stay of execution to Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was sentenced to death for killing a woman by strangling her in 1993.
On 9 May 2017, the Federalist Tribune web site published another version of the story, based on the equally false claim that the high court ruled on a complaint by the Volusia County Republican Party in Florida.
There was no such case. But the group did promote an online petition a month earlier criticizing the Department of Education for allowing school districts to use the documentary series “Access Islam” as a learning tool. The petition stated:
Public schools would never have students reading the Bible, asking them to interpret scripture, demanding they use biblical scripture in their daily lives, have them examine what Christians say during prayer or instruct them to understand the Christian proclamation of faith.
“Access Islam” is unconstitutional and should be dumped immediately by the U.S. Department of Education.
But the program, which was created using federal funding in 2005, is not required viewing in Florida schools.
We contacted both the Department of Education and WNET-TV (which co-produced the series) seeking further comment but had not received a response by press time.
Reeves, Benjamin. “Florida Republicans: Muslim Documentaries Shown in Schools Are ‘Indoctrination.'”
The Wrap. 7 April 2017.
Barnes, Robert. “Gorsuch Casts Death-Penalty Vote in One of His First Supreme Court Cases.”
The Washington Post. 21 April 2017.
Mawyer, Martin. “Dump ‘Access Islam’ from Public Schools.”
change.org. Accessed 19 May 2017.
Library of Congress. “What Is Sharia Law?”
Accessed 19 May 2017.