Promotion of religion at a publicly funded charter school in violation of the First Amendment

CASE DESCRIPTION

In January 2009, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) and the Minnesota Department of Education in federal district court arguing that the charter school had repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by using taxpayer money to illegally promote religion. TiZA was a charter school organized under Minnesota law as a non-profit corporation and was sponsored by Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) and supported by tax funds from the State of Minnesota and the federal government. TiZA had campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine.

The Minnesota Department of Education is charged with approval and oversight of charter schools and with certification of schools' entitlement to state funding. The Minnesota Department of Education was named as a co-defendant because it failed to provide proper oversight in its disbursement of taxpayer funds to TiZA.

TIZA operations were problematic for a number of reasons, including:

  • TiZA leased both of its campuses from religious groups.
  • TiZA and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN) and TiZA's landlords are linked by a complex, interconnecting set of personal and corporate relationships. The leadership and operations of TiZA and MAS-MN have always been overlapping and MAS-MN officials function in prominent leadership positions at TiZA. If you would like to get a better sense of the interconnectedness of the organization and individuals involved in this case, please read our document PDF iconOrganizations and Individuals.
  • TiZA has been shown to advance, endorse, and prefer the Muslim religion over other religions or nonsectarian approaches in connection with school activities.

Also named as defendants in the case are Islamic Relief USA based in California, the Minnesota Commissioner of Education, and individual TiZA board members. The complaint was filed by ACLU-MN cooperating attorneys, Peter Lancaster, Katie Pfeifer, Christopher Amundsen, Ivan Ludmer, Mark Wagner, and Dustin Adams from Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

2015 UPDATES

The case was resolved after the bankruptcy court issued payments to all parties. 

2013 UPDATES

The case is still open while the parties await the bankruptcy court’s resolution of the bankruptcy estate.

2012 UPDATES

In August 2012, the parties’ settlement agreements were approved by the federal district court. This brought the majority of ACLU-MN's case against TiZA to a close. The only part of the case that remained open at this point was the bankruptcy court proceedings. In the settlement agreements, Asad Zaman agreed to pay back $17,500 to the State of Minnesota. In addition, Zaman dropped more than $360,000 in bankruptcy claims. Asad Zaman, Mahrous Kandil, and Asif Rahman all agreed not to serve in leadership positions in Minnesota public charter schools for 3 years.

2011 UPDATES

On January 7, 2011, the Commissioner and IRUSA filed documents in support of their motions for summary judgment. Documents relating to the motions are available below. On January 10, 2011, TiZA also filed documents in support of its motion for summary judgment. The Commissioner's summary judgment motion sought to have ACLU-MN's claims against her dismissed. The Commissioner was also seeking an order to enforce a clause in the charter school contract that would have required TiZA to indemnify the Commissioner. IRUSA's summary judgment motion also sought an order to enforce the indemnification clause found in the charter school contract. A hearing on the motions was scheduled for February 18, 2011.

TiZA January 10, 2011 Motion for Summary Judgment Documents

On January 31, 2011, the ACLU of Minnesota reached a settlement agreement with IRUSA and the Commissioner. The ACLU of Minnesota had not reached an agreement with TiZA or any other party involved in the case at this point.

On February 3, 2011, the ACLU of Minnesota settled its claims against IRUSA and the Minnesota Department of Education. As part of its settlement agreement, IRUSA was required to pay the ACLU of Minnesota $250,000 to cover legal costs.

On February 3, 2011, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a memorandum in opposition to TiZA’s January 10, 2013 motion for summary judgment. Access the documents submitted in that response here.

On February 3, 2011, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a motion with the federal district court to approve its settlement agreements with Minnesota Commissioner of Education and IRUSA. Access the documents filed with ACLU-MN’s motion here.

On April 20, 2011, the federal district court rebuffed TiZA's third attempt to dismiss ACLU-MN's lawsuit by denying TiZA’s motion for summary judgment. You may access the order: PDF icon Denial of TiZA's Motion.

On June 30, 2011, TiZA ceased to operate as a public charter school by operation of law. On the same day, TiZA's application to switch to a new authorizer was denied by the Department of Education due to lack of necessary documentation, and the school's request for an injunction to remain open was denied by the federal district court. TiZA filed for bankruptcy protection on June 30, 2011 after its attempt to obtain a new authorizer failed. On July 1, 2011, TiZA officially stopped receiving state or federal aid.

In July 2011, IRUSA, ACLU of Minnesota, and the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education filed a joint motion with the federal district court to lift an automatic stay (triggered by the filing of bankruptcy) on the TiZA litigation to allow the parties to liquidate their individual claims against TiZA, and to confirm ACLU-MN’s settlement agreement with the Commissioner (which included a request for a determination as to the designation of confidentiality for certain TiZA documents). On July 15, 2011, IRUSA, ACLU of Minnesota, and the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education filed a memorandum of law in support of their joint motion to lift the automatic stay. The parties argued that lifting the automatic stay would enhance judicial economy, reduce the cost of litigation to all parties, and would not harm the bankruptcy estate. A hearing on this motion was held on August 11, 2011.

2009-2010 UPDATES

The ACLU of Minnesota filed its complaint against TiZA on January 21, 2009. See ACLU-MN's complaint: PDF icon Complaint Against TiZA.

TiZA filed a motion to dismiss soon thereafter. In June 2009, the federal district court heard TiZA's arguments and consequently ruled against TiZA in favor of allowing a majority of ACLU-MN’s claims to proceed. TiZA also filed a counterclaim against ACLU of Minnesota alleging, among other things, defamation and tortious interference with its contractual relationships with various parties. The ACLU of Minnesota filed a motion to dismiss TiZA’s counterclaims and, in December 2009, the federal district court issued an order dismissing the counterclaims, which can be read: PDF icon Order Dismissing Counterclaims.

In February 2010, TiZA filed a motion to dismiss ACLU-MN’s lawsuit. You can read TiZA’s second motion to dismiss: PDF icon Second Motion to Dismiss. A small group of parents also filed a motion to join the suit to represent the interest of their students in the case.

In May 2010, the federal district court issued an order denying both TiZA's second motion to dismiss and the parents’ motion to join the suit. You may read the May order denying the motions: PDF icon May Order Denying Motions.

Attorney(s)

Peter Lancaster, Katie Pfeifer, Ivan Ludmer, Christopher Amundson, Dustin Adams, and Mark Wagner from Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Date filed

January 21, 2009

Court

United States District Court - District of Minnesota

Status

Closed

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