Conservative columnist Katherine Kersten finds unlikely ally in the ACLU

The Strib's Kersten takes issue with church vs. state—but only when it involves Islam

MAS-MN functioned as a local affiliate of the national Muslim American Society, an organization that promotes Islam. In 2006, MAS-MN leaders issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslim taxi drivers from transporting passengers who carried alcohol. A year later, Muslim checkers at Target began refusing to scan pork products.

TiZA's muddled finances were the real problem, according to the ACLU lawsuit. MAS-MN owned TiZA's Inver Grove Heights campus. Zaman served both as president of TiZA and vice president and spokesperson for MAS-MN. What's more, he controlled the books for MAS-MN Minnesota Property Holding Corp., an organization that had been set up to receive money from the state for the school. The holding company donated rent for TiZA to MAS-MN.

Other charter schools also had religious sponsors, and paid rent to religious organizations. The problem with TiZA, Samuelson explains, is that the same people ran the school and owned the building—an arrangement prohibited by charter school law. "Hence the need for these shell corporations," Samuelson says. "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."

Katherine Kersten investigated Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy and declared it an "Islamic school"
Ward Sutton
Katherine Kersten investigated Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy and declared it an "Islamic school"

The ACLU wants TiZA to give the money it has received from the state back to the Department of Education.

TiZA claims most of the problems highlighted in the ACLU suit have already been corrected—and had been even before the lawsuit was filed. Saman left the MAS-MN board last August, months before the ACLU suit. Why did he hold both positions in the first place? "It's a small community," Olson says. "It would be the same issue if you had the principal of a Catholic school being on a parish council." The school's attorney, Erick Kaardal, argues that the state Department of Education—not federal court—is the appropriate venue for examining the remaining complaints. What's more, he says, the ACLU doesn't have the authority to sue TiZA, because it isn't representing a specific taxpayer or a member of its own organization. Kaardal has asked the federal judge to dismiss the case. The judge is expected to decide on the legal standing by summer's end.

In the meantime, Kersten's allies are already declaring victory. "Kathy was the victim of a tremendous amount of unwarranted abuse in connection with her columns," says Scott W. Johnson, a Minneapolis attorney and conservative Powerline blogger. "I thought that the lawsuit vindicated Kathy's columns." 

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