Court Win for Professor Sued by Muslim Student, Punished by College Over Terrorism Course
A federal court has ruled in favor of a professor thrown under the bus by his public college after a Muslim student claimed the Islamic terrorism portion of a world politics class violated his Constitutional rights. The course is offered at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) in Arizona, which is part of the Maricopa County Community College District. It is taught by Nicholas Damask, a veteran professor who organizes the course into six modules that cover world politics. One is dedicated to defining and analyzing Islamic terrorism. Students are required to read excerpts from a book called “Future Jihad” written by a Lebanese-born Middle East expert who has worked with the U.S. departments of Justice, Defense and State.
A Muslim student, Mohamed Sabra, sued Professor Damask and the Maricopa County Community College District in June for violating his First Amendment right by supposedly condemning his religion. In the complaint, filed by the terrorist front group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Sabra demands that Damask stop teaching the materials in question until they “do not have the primary effect of disapproving of Islam.” Founded in 1994 by three Middle Eastern extremists (Omar Ahmad, Nihad Awad and Rafeeq Jaber) who ran the American propaganda wing of Hamas, CAIR was named as a co-conspirator in a federal terror-finance case involving the Hamas front group Holy Land Foundation. In a statement announcing the lawsuit against the Arizona college district, CAIR alleges that Sabra “was punished for refusing to agree with an anti-Muslim professor’s unconstitutional condemnations of Islam during a Political Science class” and that he was forced to disavow his religion.
Like many taxpayer-funded academic institutions nationwide, SCC caved into the left’s demands and administrators quickly apologized and tried to pressure the professor into signing an apology letter written by the college’s marketing team. The Maricopa County Community College District also caved in, launching an investigation and warning that the content of Damask’s course would be reviewed for “insensitivities.” Damask, who has taught world politics for more than two decades, stood up to his employer and refused to apologize. He eventually contacted a group dedicated to defending rights such as freedom of speech and religion, due process and legal equality at America’s colleges and universities. The nonprofit, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), sent a letter to SCC’s president pointing out that the school’s actions—as well as the district’s—were flatly inconsistent with the college’s First Amendment obligations and the basic tenets of academic freedom. “Further, the implication that Damask is being investigated by the college’s governing board will have an impermissible chilling effect on faculty expression and teaching,” the letter states. Publicly committing Damask to apologizing and a mandate that the content in question will be removed from his course is alarming and inconsistent with his rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom under both the First Amendment and Arizona law, according to FIRE.
This month a federal court settled the issue, dismissing the lawsuit against the professor and the community college district, which has 10 campuses. In the ruling Judge Susan Brnovich writes that a curriculum that “merely conflicts with a student’s religious beliefs does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.” She also writes that the Muslim student was not required to adopt the views expressed by the professor or the course’s required reading, but only to demonstrate an understanding of the material taught. “Mr. Sabra was simply exposed to attitudes and outlooks at odds with his own religious perspective,” the ruling states. Appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump in 2018, Judge Brnovich also writes this in her order: “Examining the course as a whole, a reasonable, objective observer would conclude that the teaching’s primary purpose was not the inhibition of religion. Only in picking select quotes from the course can one describe the module as anti-Islam.”