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Fear of a comparative religion class causes a local school to shut down

Fear of a comparative religion class causes a local school to shut down

An Augusta County, Virginia, teacher was accused by a local church and some angry parents indoctrinating her students. She was following a state mandated curriculum on comparative religion that introduced a basic element of Islamic faith. As a result of the furor, schools in that county are closed today.

The local church and about a hundred parents planned a rally demanding that the teacher be fired, but this was met with a flood of reaction on social media in support of the educator.

NewsLeader.com:

Cheryl LaPorte, a veteran teacher with Augusta County Schools, had asked students to practice Arabesque calligraphy by copying an Islamic statement of faith, known as the shahada, as part of a class on world religions, including Islam.

Initial reaction from some Christian parents included calls for LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs.” However, both the Virginia Department of Education and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond have reviewed the material and found it in line with state standards and said the lesson did not violate student rights.

Former students of LaPorte, concerned citizens and parents have taken to social media to ask the parents who initiated the case against LaPorte to stop.

An event page created to rally outraged parents to a forum Tuesday night at a rural church near Riverheads High School was taken over with posts criticizing the actions of those who created the event. It was eventually taken off Facebook on Wednesday.

The Washington Post:

Some parents were outraged at what they saw as an attempt to proselytize Islam in a public school, a concern that has been echoed by parents in districts across the country over lessons about Islam. In Tennessee, there has been an uproar over teaching about Islam and ancient Islamic civilization to middle schoolers, prompting state lawmakers to consider legislation limiting the teaching of world religions to high schoolers,according to the Tennessean. A parent in Fairfax County, Va., also reported what she found to be inappropriate lessons about Islam at a school there last year.

But experts say that teaching about religion is critical in public schools as religion — including Islam — is essential to understanding everything from ancient history to current events. Religious literacy has taken on an especially important role now, as religion has become a regular part of political rhetoric in part because of fears of terrorism linked to jihad. That makes it even more important for schools to teach about it, experts say.

“To be an educated person, to be a citizen, to be part of the global conversation, to be engaged in our world, religious literacy is essential,” said Charles C. Haynes, the vice president of the Newseum Institute and the Religious Freedom Center. “More important than that is how are we going to live with one another in one of the most religiously diverse society in the world without understanding one another?”

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Philip B. Spivey

Ridding our classrooms and book shelves of evolution, revolution and Islam takes me back to a time when hate and ignorance ruled the world.

Jerald Liko

I’d like to know more about the curriculum – and especially whether this was an elective course – before I react. If Jewish or agnostic students were asked to copy down John 3:16 in Greek, I know plenty of parents who would object, and I’d be on their side. I don’t think the idea was to trick the students into making a confession of faith, but I can see why more conservative parents might interpret it that way.

Hats off to the students who simply refused to write the phrase if they felt uncomfortable doing so, that seems like a much more mature and appropriate reaction than those we’re seeing out of the adults.

David Curtis
Leslie Marshall

The worksheet for the students did not include a translation. Here it is …’There is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.’

David Allen

Yes, as was fully and adequately covered in the second link in the story to the Washington Post article;

Under the heading “practicing calligraphy,” the worksheet says: “Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”

The shahada translates to: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Some translations start with: “There is no god but Allah.”

The students were never asked to translate the phrase, written in Arabic, nor were they instructed to recite it or “adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief,” Schools Superintendent Eric Bond wrote in a news release. He noted that students are slated to do similar calligraphy exercises in units about China.

Emphasis mine.

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