This is an interesting separation of church and state case:
In 2001, Excelsior Middle School in Byron, 40 miles east of San Francisco, advised a classroom of twelve-year olds that, “[for the next three weeks], you and your classmates will become Muslims.” Thereafter, the students memorized portions of the Koran, chose Islamic names, wore tags bearing their new Islamic names alongside the Star and Crescent Moon—the symbol of Muslims, completed the Five Pillars of Faith, and recited Muslim prayers. Ironically, the teacher’s edition of the course textbook warned: “Recreating religious practices or ceremonies through role playing activities should not take place in a public school classroom.”
The Ninth Circuit ruled that this was ok:
Nonetheless, a California federal district court judge appointed by Clinton ruled the course lacked “any devotional or religious intent” and was only educational. Notwithstanding a double standard between how the district court treated Islam and how federal courts have treated other religions in the classroom, the Ninth Circuit agreed.
So, was this alright? The site I linked says no:
In particular, the school district’s actions fail every Supreme Court test; they: lack a secular purpose; primarily advance religion; excessively entangle government with religion; endorse a particular religious belief; and coerce students to participate in religion.
Now, I don’t think they’re quite correct. There’s an obvious secular purpose: to educate children about Islam, a religion that many people haven’t encountered and one that plays a large role in global politics. Does it primarily advance religion? That seems murky. I doubt there was any religious intent behind it, as the Ninth Circuit is quoted as ruling (apparently the whole opinion is unpublished). Depending on the context, it could be construed as endorsing Islam. It doesn’t seem that it’s primary effect is to advance religion, in the end. It seems to me that it advances the understanding of religion, specifically Islam. Finally, does it unnecessarily entangle church and state? There’s no question that we could teach about Islam without the roleplaying. However, I don’t think you can question the fact that this is a way of teaching that’s going to leave more of an impact on the students. I think that it’s this clause that the class fails, however. Given that it’s pretty easy to see how this offends people and that the purpose can be advanced in other ways, I think it’s probably better to keep on the safe side and not do the roleplaying activity. The author of the book that said not to do such roleplaying activities was probably thinking along that line. As for the last two criteria the site lists, they aren’t explicitly part of the Lemon Test but are accounted for in it.
It is, however, a borderline case and is worth a bit more than a dismissive remark.