Should public schools be permitted to send students to houses of worship? Some might say yes, particularly those who believe that faith-related field trips serve as good educational opportunities. But what about when those trips include Islamic mosques and Hindu temples at the expense of others? A a controversy in Tennessee is brewing over exactly that.
Enter Hendersonville High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., a school that has come under fire after sending freshmen to a local mosque on Sept. 4, where they were reportedly offered copies of the Koran. In the wake of the controversy, the school has revised its field trip policy to restrict trips to churches, reports conservative commentator Todd Starnes.
The students in the school's honors world studies class visited both an Islamic mosque and a Hindu temple. Considering that the pupils likely had little knowledge about either faith system, the assumption is that the trip was a cultural learning opportunity.
But some parents, Starnes notes, were bothered by the fact that Hendersonville students were not also sent to Christian and Jewish houses of worship.
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Parent Mike Conner voiced his concern to Starnes, claiming that the kids were served cookies and punch at the mosque and that they purportedly heard readings from the Koran. They were, however, allowed to decline the Koran if they chose. At the Hindu temple, the kids were apparently led in meditation.
"Our kids are being indoctrinated and this is being shoved in their face," Conner told Starnes. "It tells me they are pushing other religions and they want Christianity to take a back seat. They want our children to be tolerant of everything except Christianity."
The blog DailyRollCall.com, initially reported that the children visited the Islamic Center of Nashville, a house of worship described as "one of the most radical mosques in Tennessee." Conservatives have criticized the center in the past, but it's unclear exactly what the children learned on the trip. A call to the house of worship went unanswered.
But the visits aren't the only controversial element worth noting.
Conner's stepdaughter, Jessica, opted not to go on the field trip and was subsequently given a replacement assignment. The 14-year-old was told to compare and contrast Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. But this task was filled with errors and misconceptions, the father said.
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In addition to alleged disparities in the length of descriptions given for each faith system, Conner said that the replacement work was patently biased.
"There is no denying that Muslims in the Middle East and Asian conquered lands of other peoples but they did not impose their religion over them," read the assignment's description of Islam.
“If we were to compare the attitude of the Muslim rulers towards the minorities living under their rule during the nineteenth century – with the attitude of the Europeans and the Americans towards their minorities, I dare to say that the record of the Muslims would be better," the document continued.
The text came from a speech by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, an Islamic speaker and author who addresses interfaith relations. It was derived from the text of a speech he gave in 1991 called "Religious Tolerance in Islam." While the two quotes above do not appear to be part of the reading that students used for the compare and contrast assignment (a note presumably from the teacher tells students that they can stop reading before these quotes appear in the text), the presence of these comments is raising eyebrows.
The copy that preceded it -- the words that students were instructed to use for the assignment -- focused on the prophet Muhammad and the central underpinnings of Islam. Here's more from that portion of the speech:
Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, believes in prophets and messengers of God- One interesting way of understanding the Islamic view on freedom of religion is to look at the role of the prophets and messengers.
Had they been sent to forcefully bring the people into their teachings? Were Moses, Jesus and Muhammad ordered by the Almighty to impose their teachings upon the people by sword? Absolutely not! Look at the Qur'an, the holy scripture of Islam; the revealed words of God where He clearly outlines the duty of his messengers by saying:
“(And as for My messenger,) there is no (obligation) on him except to deliver (the. [sic] message). God knows what yon expose and what conceal”. (5:99).
TheBlaze obtained a copy of this portion of the text, which is also available online here.
Jessica decided that the assignment was too biased to complete and she was given a zero as a result. The district reportedly refused to offer a more balanced assignment when her parents met with the school and complained.
"They told us we were being hostile towards Islam," Conner told Starnes. "It was a very confrontational meeting. Their attitude was, 'I can’t believe you would question our motives with your children.'"
Questions remain such as: Are freshman students best suited for a trip that's unable to provide opportunities to visit a more wide variety of worship locations? Additionally, if balance isn't possible, is it best to not go on any such trips?
While a representative for Sumner County Schools declined to get into specifics, he did tell Starnes that field trips to religious venues have been suspended since the school cannot afford to provide equal representation to all faiths.
TheBlaze attempted to verify the details of the story, but we were unable to reach the Islamic Center of Nashville and a message was left for a public relations official at the Sumner County Schools. Updates on the story will be provided as they come in.
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(H/T: Todd Starnes)