While most of America was remembering the thousands of lives lost in the tragic 9/11 terror attack this week, an intense ideological battle was unfolding in the small city of Sheridan, Ark.
A Muslim speaker who was scheduled to address students in the Sheridan School District was dis-invited following anger from parents and members of the community who felt including him on such a sensitive day was wholly inappropriate.
The debate commenced after a teacher invited the Muslim neighbor to speak about terrorism and the Islamic faith. It didn't take long for negative reaction to this development to lead officials toward the change-of-heart.
So, following an outcry, district leaders cancelled the speech -- but not without explaining via a press release that those in opposition failed to fully understand the reason for the event, reports KTHV-TV.
Superintendent Dr. Brenda Haynes noted her belief that misconceptions fueled the debate. In her letter, dated Sep. 11, 2013, the district leader wrote that she understands, considering the anniversary of the terror attacks, why some would respond with angst. However, she argued that the intentions behind the contentious event were pure.
"The purpose of the invitation was to have a member of that faith inform our students that Muslims are not identical in their beliefs with regard to the use of terror; that, on the contrary, some, probably most strongly disapprove of it," Haynes wrote.
"There was no thought of having this person address the classes to point Islam as a 'religion of peace.' Rather, it was to give him an opportunity to state his personal point of view in strong opposition to terrorism in general and to events of September 11, 2001, in particular," she added.
Responses, according to KTHV-TV have not all been rooted in outrage over the initial decision by educators to bring in a Muslim speaker.
One resident told the outlet that "bigotry and hatred" are issues in the city. Another person named Elizabeth Cameron added, "I don't think a kid should be denied any type of educational speech because the speaker is of a certain religion or race."
But Kathy Wallace was among those who felt it was inappropriate for the individual to speak on the 9/11 anniversary.
"Since that nationality was responsible for 9/11, we just didn't feel it was right for him to come speak on 9/11 to the American children," she said.
Now, the dust is settling. There's no telling how residents will react if, indeed, the speaker is re-invited to address students. Perhaps fewer emotions will fuel the debate, though, especially if its proximity is further away from the 9/11 anniversary.
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