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By Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune
Posted: May 15th, 2008
I'm reviled on a daily basis as the poorest excuse for a journalist since…well, since there was journalism. But now I've really gone and done it! I've made an enemy at the highest reaches of state government, and she's calling for my head.Rep. Mindy Greiling is Chair of the House K-12 Finance Committee. In a dither over my columns [here and here] about one of her favorite schools, she wrote a letter published in the on-line Star Tribune and demanded that the paper give me a pink slip. In an interview with the Minnesota Monitor, Greiling labeled me "a thug." Click here to see her web site declaring her mission to be "bringing people together." Perhaps I don't qualify as "people."
Oh well, all in a day's work. But now, I see with horror that Greiling's letter seems to have ignited a public campaign for my ouster! An online petition drive is now demanding that I be fired. Folks have signed in droves - from Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey across the globe to Turkey, where "Can Atik" signed. Dozens of Minnesotans, including Coleen Rowley, have added their monikers.
Scott Johnson of Power Line blog has made a valiant stand in my defense, citing fact after fact.
But is it enough to save my skin? Are Strib big-wigs even now drafting an obituary for my brief career?
I yield the floor, as I always do, to the fair-minded members of my jury-Think Again commentators. In a supreme act of fairness, I give those calling for my demise the first word-Rep. Greiling's letter of indictment - and the last word-the petition's bill of particulars, enumerating my offenses. Power Line's spirited defense is sandwiched in between.
Be fair, commentators; be merciful, do justice.
GREILING STAR TRIBUNE LETTER
May 7, 2008
In response to questions prompted by Katherine Kersen's recent columns on Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), I decided to visit the school myself.
What I learned during a tour late last month is that none of Kersten's concerns that the charter school is promoting religion in violation of a state law that prohibits public schools from doing so is valid.
What I did see was excellent teachers hard at work in the classroom focused on improving student achievement. I saw engaged students of different religious and cultural backgrounds learning reading, math, government and science. I spoke with parents, teachers and administrators who all stressed their high standards for TIZA students. While an outsider, or someone like Kersten who is trying to validate a predetermined conclusion, might be tempted to brand Tarek ibn Ziyad as an "Islamic School" because it leases space from the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, the school, like other charter schools in Minnesota that lease space from churches, is a separate entity. It does comply with federal law that requires all schools to accommodate a student's right to practice his or her religion. And unlike other charter schools that have faced financial and other administrative challenges, the school was recognized with a 2008 School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education for its "sound fiscal health and financial management policies."
Kersten's reckless journalistic standards have diminished this paper's credibility. Worse, they have threatened the safety of the children and staff at the school, which has been forced to take extra security measures in the wake of recent death threats. While I value a broad range of opinions from a variety of perspectives, I value the facts even more. Kersten's gross distortion of the facts in this case should compel Star Tribune management to ask for her resignation.
REP. MINDY GREILING, DFL-ROSEVILLE; CHAIRWOMAN, HOUSE K-12 FINANCE DIVISION POWERLINE:
Posted May 12, 2008
When a powerful political figure attacks the work or integrity of a reporter, it's frequently considered newsworthy. Does the politician have a legitimate beef? Is the reporter out of line? Or is the politician full of it? Is he throwing his weight around in a distasteful abuse of his position? The letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Minnesota state Rep. Mindy Greiling calling for the firing of Star Tribune metro columnist Katherine Kersten raises all these questions.
Greiling is a poltical figure who wields substantial power as the chair of the state House of Representatives K-12 finance division. In her letter to the editor of the Star Tribune, Greiling accused Kersten of "reckless journalistic standards" and "gross distortion of the facts" in Kersten's two columns reporting facts suggestive of the illegal sectarian practices of the Tarek ibn Ziyad public K-8 charter school in suburban St. Paul. Greiling's letter, however, fails to cite a single fact on which Kersten erred.
Minnesota Monitor is a left-wing Internet news site. It's the kind of site that all but calls for moonbats to disrupt the annual dinner of the Center of the American Experiment (the conservative Minneapolis-based think tank on whose board I sit) featuring John Bolton this coming Thursday, as it does in this post. Although the Star Tribune itself doesn't act as if there is a story here, Minnesota Monitor rightly treats Greiling's attack on Kersten as newsworthy. Because Greiling's letter fails to cite any fact that Kersten got wrong, the Monitor asked Greiling where Kersten went astray. In the audio clip in this Monitor post, Greiling responds in her own fashion.
Greiling leveled her attack on Kersten based on nothing more than a Potemkin-village tour of the school by imam and school principal Asad Zaman. Greiling does not note that Kersten sought, but was refused, access to the school by Zaman. On the basis of her guided tour, Greiling calls for Kersten's dismissal. Although she is the head of a legislative education committee, Greiling has no interest in the legal issues raised by Kersten's TIZA columns.
Greiling is not interested in the school's entanglement with religion and with the Muslim American Society Minnesota chapter. She is not interested in the school's highly problematic endorsement of and support for Islam. She is not interested in the fact that taxpayer funds are used to support a school that may be violating the law.
Greiling takes at face value Zaman's statements about prayer being student-led and voluntary. Greiling does not dispute that teachers take students to the bathroom for the Islamic washing ritual prior to prayer, that teachers take students to prayer services, that teachers participate in the Friday prayer service, or that the school has recruited parents to help with prayer. Greiling relies entirely on Zaman's assurances that all is well at TIZA, but a rational person might think that the issue bears a little more scrutiny than Greiling affords it.
Greiling apparently didn't ask how second-graders could be initiating and leading prayer. She regurgitates Zaman's reassurance that the prayer services simply constitute the lawful "accommodation" of the students' religious practices. According to Greiling, "It was clear they were very up on laws what they need to do to accommodate religion as any school would do."
The constitutional test, however, is not whether prayer is voluntary or student-led. If it were, public schools could have student-led prayers in the classroom every morning, and those who didn't wish to participate could opt out. The test is whether prayer is student-initiated. At TIZA, the schedule is arranged around religious observance and teachers lead students to ritual washing and prayer. The prayer appears to be school-initiated, not student-initiated.
Greiling claims that TIZA's relationship with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota is merely landlord/tenant, like that of other charter schools that rent from churches. This does not appear to be true. The two institutions share a building. Their boards and leadership have overlapped. The school building contains a mosque run by MAS Minnesota. MAS Minnesota appears to run the Friday prayers and after-school Islamic Studies instruction. MAS Minnesota initially planned a private Islamic school at the same location.
Greiling does not acknowledge that TIZA leadership presents the school as secular in public documents, but that the MAS Minnesota chapter presents it as religious in its convention program. In one public document, for example, the school boasts of a day care center and a youth center on site. In the MAS convention program, they are both described as Islamic. Greiling shows no interest in the nature of MAS itself.
Greiling states that Zaman is "reputable, has credibility," in part because he is "not rooted in any [political] party." In fact, Zaman was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic national convention. He assisted (Democratic) Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison's campaign. Greiling to the contrary notwithstanding, Zaman is a partisan Democratic activist.
Greiling regurgitates Zaman's reassurance that TIZA has after-school activities besides religious instruction, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Kersten asked Zaman to list these activities and he refused, though he said there were several. Kersten posted his response on the Star Tribune Web site. Did Greiling think to ask whether the Muslim American Society runs the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts programs?
Greiling purports to take issue with Kersten's reference to the observation of fasting by all students during Ramadan. Kersten cited a St. Paul Pioneer Press article on the school quoting a parent saying that all students fasted. Greiling says that some students fast and others do not. However, only Muslims over the age of puberty are expected to fast. That some TIZA students fast and others do not is not by itself evidence of choice or secularism.
According to Greiling, Kersten wrote that TIZA students were required to engage in religious activity even if they are not Muslim. The only question raised by this asserrtion is one of reading comprehension on the part of Greiling. Kersten reported that the school is not neutral on religion, but rather encourages and supports Islam.
Even friendly outside observers such as Kevin Featherly have noted that virtually all TIZA students are Muslim ("Despite Zaman's assurances, a visitor might well mistake Tarek ibn Ziyad for an Islamic school….Headscarves are voluntary, but virtually all the girls wear them…."). Zaman had no dispute with Featherly's article.
This past Friday morning, I wrote Greiling via her Web site:
Dear Rep. Greiling: I write for the Power Line Web site (powerlineblog.com). I read your letter to the editor of the Star Tribune calling for Katherine Kersten's resignation based on what you call her "gross distortion of facts" regarding TIZA. I have carefully read her columns and related material as well as interviewed Morgan Brown of the Department of Education. I find your letter itself a gross abuse of power and a reckless assault on the truth. In this post I set forth the facts and call for your resignation.
Please let me know what facts you dispute and on what ground. I will post your response in its entirety on our site.
In this post I characterized Greiling's letter to the Star Tribune as an act of thuggery. We'll see if Greiling is up for a fair fight, or if she prefers to hit and run.
JOHN adds: There is a major 1st Amendment issue here. Greiling, a public official, has demanded that the Star Tribune fire Kersten for writing two columns with which Greiling disagrees. Can one imagine the furor if a member of the Bush administration demanded that a columnist be fired for writing something-about the Iraq war, say-of which the administration official disapproves? Or to take an example closer to home, what would have been the reaction (from the Star Tribune and elsewhere) if Governor Tim Pawlenty had demanded that Strib columnist Nick Coleman be fired for absurdly claiming that it was Pawlenty's fault the 35W bridge collapsed? In either instance, the howls of outrage cannot be imagined. Yet Greiling's call for Kersten's firing has been met with an odd silence from all liberal precincts, including the paper itself.
Daniel Lynx Bernard
Katherine Kersten, columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has made a habit of demonizing Muslims in Minnesota. But in her recent smear of a local grade school, Kersten went further and committed journalistic malpractice. There is no place for her in a newspaper that claims to represent a general audience in a pluralistic society.
Kersten alleged that the school used public funds for religious practices. Her evidence: the word of one substitute teacher who spent a few hours in the school, made assumptions about what she saw, and never got the truth. Kersten failed to mention that her source was a Republican Party activist. More irresponsibly, Kersten used a tenuous and far-fetched guilt-by-association to suggest that these Minnesota educators were connected to terrorism in the Middle East. Those reckless accusations led to death threats directed at the school and sent fear through the Muslim community.
Community members have repudiated Kersten's attack:
We agree. To the managers and editors of the Star Tribune, we say: You have allowed Kersten's racist bullying of a religious minority for too long. Now, your lack of oversight of her verification has unjustly damaged the reputation of local educators and placed their students in danger. If you want to reassure the public that the Star Tribune does not endorse her reckless bigotry, cancel her column
- Wayne Jennings, former St. Paul Schools administrator, member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, March 12: "The school is not a religious school in any way."
- Charter school expert Joe Nathan, April 10: "The school is NOT a pervasively sectarian school. I have visited such schools - Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, etc. Tarek Ibn Ziyad has no similarity to the pervasive religious symbols and promotion of a particular faith in such schools. … The message throughout Tarek is of peace, tolerance and respect for others."
- Carla A. Bates, Minneapolis School Board candidate, April 14: "I call into question the integrity with which Katherine Kersten levels her complaints. I think it's Islam that she doesn't like, and she is going to put a successful school through the ringer because she doesn't like how it looks, sounds, or behaves. "
- Mohammad Zafar, a former Marine and parent of a student at the school, April 17: "Star Tribune needs to hold Katherine Kersten responsible for falsifying a story with very little or no research. She has shown her strong bias and false reporting … they need to hold her accountable for breaking the basic ethics and moral obligation that all reporters need to uphold."
- Rep. Mindy Greiling, K-12 Finance Chairwoman, Minnesota House of Representatives, May 7: "Kersten's reckless journalistic standards have diminished this paper's credibility. Worse, they have threatened the safety of the children and staff at the school. … Kersten's gross distortion of the facts in this case should compel Star Tribune management to ask for her resignation."
A KSTP Television News crew went to the Tarik ibn Zayad Academy (TIZA) in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, to seek comment from school officials regarding a Minnesota Department of Education letter directing the charter school to change two of its practices that impermissibly advance Islam.
However, instead of obtaining a statement from school officials, the KSTP TV crew was assaulted by two people, one of whom is the director of the school.
To see this stunning video, click on this link below and click on the image in the upper right hand corner:
You may recall that back in March we emailed you news stories containing allegations that TIZA, a tax-funded charter school, was improperly advancing Islam.
At the time, the director of the school denied all allegations, but thanks to public pressure, helped in part by our email campaign and the actions of a Minnesota ACT! for America chapter, the Minnesota Department of Education launched an investigation into the practices of the school.
The Department then issued a letter to the school directing the school to correct two practices that amounted to an impermissible advancement of religion.
To see the letter the Minnesota Department of Education sent to the school, click here: http://www.eleventh-avenue-south.com/Tiza%20Findings.pdf.
Given TIZA’s denial of the allegations originally leveled against it, and the totally uncalled for and unprovoked actions on the part of the TIZA director against the KTSP News crew, we remain skeptical that the concerns that have been raised will be thoroughly addressed by the school.
What’s more, a new question has been raised: Where has the Minnesota Department of Education been? How could such obvious violations of law regarding religious indoctrination in a tax-funded school be allowed to go on as they have? The Minnesota Department of Education deserves credit for finally uncovering these violations, but it seems unlikely these violations just began recently. Had it not been for public outcry, these violations would be going on unchecked to this day.
What’s more, what other impermissible activities are going on inside the school that the school has successfully hidden from state officials? This is not an unreasonable question to ask of a school whose director would deny all allegations and assault a TV news crew. This is not an unreasonable question to ask of a school which routinely prevents members of the public and the media from seeing what goes on inside the school. What is the school trying to hide?
In conclusion, while we are glad that two unlawful actions by the school have been uncovered, we remain dubious that all the problems have been exposed and that those that have been will be corrected as directed.
Our advice to the Minnesota Department of Education: Over the next six months, schedule some unannounced visits to the school.
And if lack of compliance is discovered then, consequences more severe than a letter would certainly be called for.
Read the KSTP article
News crew confronted at school
By: Nicole Muehlhausen, Web Producer
In an attempt to report about the new findings from the department of education Monday, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS went to Tarik ibn Zayad Academy in Inver Grove Heights.
While on school grounds, our crew was confronted by school officials. Our photographer was injured while wrestling with the two men over the camera.
Our photographer was examined by paramedics, who suffered minor shoulder and back injuries.
Inver Grove Heights Police are investigating possible charges against the TiZA officials involved in the confrontation and trespassing charges against 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
A deciding factor in whether criminal charges will be filed could be a conversation with an officer called to the school while 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was filming the property from a public street 20 minutes before the confrontation.
The officer did tell our crew that the school did not want us there, but the video confirms the officer never told the crew they had to leave.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has made several attempts to contact TiZA officials for comment, but our calls have not been returned.
What brought our crew to the school on Monday was for comment after the Minnesota Department of Education's review of the conduct at the school.
TiZA focuses on Middle Eastern culture and shares a mosque with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. The charter school had recently fallen under fire after a teacher alleged that the school was offering religious instruction in Islam to its students.
The state subsequently conducted a review of the south Metro charter school. The state's report directed the charter school to "correct" two areas related to religion at the school.
"The Minnesota Department of Education goes to great lengths to make clear to charter schools and their sponsors that, while schools should appropriately accommodate students' religious beliefs, they must be 'nonsectarian' under the state's charter school law," said the state's education Deputy Commissioner Chas Anderson.
The agency said it was concerned about the school, with about 300 students, accommodating communal prayer and providing transportation to an after-school religious program.
"We have directed the school to take appropriate corrective actions regarding these matters and will continue to provide oversight to ensure that the school is in compliance with state and federal law," Anderson said.