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A Christian parent of a Gerrardstown, West Virginia, student is outraged after his daughter's school sent home a reported assignment requiring that the students copy the Islamic faith declaration in calligraphy.
What are the details?
According to The Christian Post, Rich Penkoski, who the outlet identified as a "conservative Christian who runs an online ministry called Warriors for Christ," revealed that his seventh-grade daughter brought home the assignment this week.
The purported assignment came from the young girl's social studies class, and included a page that required the students to copy the Islamic faith declaration in calligraphy.
According to The Christian Post, "the packet went into detail about the history of Islam, the prophet Muhammad, and the five pillars of the religion."
Penkoski, however, was most perturbed by the notion that the children were instructed to write the Arabic form of the Shahada.
The Shahada is the Islamic profession of faith, which roughly translates to, "There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
"I saw the assignment of writing the Shahada in Arabic. Their excuse was calligraphy," Penkoski told the outlet. "I was like, 'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!' First of all, calligraphy was invented in China 3,000 years prior to Muhammad. The fact that they were trying to get my daughter to write that disturbed me."
Penkoski told his daughter that she was not to complete the assignment.
"My daughter told me that if she didn't do the assignment then she was going to get a [detention] slip," he explained.
He called the school the next day, where he was told that the packet was not required, simply "optional reading," according to The Christian Post.
Penkoski doesn't buy the school's explanation that it was not required homework, and said that the school had previously assigned similar projects concerning Christianity and Judaism — both projects, he said, were compulsory.
"If it was optional, then why was there no option for comparison for Judaism and Christianity?" he asked. "There was no option to recite any of the Lord's Prayer and Ten Commandments. There was no option to write Hebrew. Why is it only Islam?"
"I am curious why the other ones were not optional and the Islamic one was optional," Penkoski mused. "It only seemed to be optional after I raised objection."
Did the school comment on the incident?
The Christian Post reached out to the middle school's principal, Ron Branch, who provided the outlet with a statement.
"There were two calligraphy activities in the packet," Branch said, "One involving the Shahada and one that is just English letters in which the students can write whatever they want in calligraphy."
"The teacher told the students that they could do these activities if they wanted. I told Mr. Penkoski that the calligraphy activity was optional, but was not assigned," Branch added.
He continued by noting that the packets were sent home to accompany the classes study of world religions.
"They are reading through the packet as part of the study. The teacher has told her class several times that this is a study of world religions and that she is not trying to advocate for any religion over another," Branch concluded. "She has told her class that if they had questions about religious beliefs, that those conversations should take place with their parents.
This isn't the first time such an assignment has been handed out.
In 2015, a Virginia school district sent home the very same assignment and faced so much backlash that the district shut down all public schools for a day, and cancelled all extracurricular activities for the following weekend.
School officials said that they received a plethora of calls and emails from outraged parents accusing the school of promoting religious indoctrination.
In a statement posted on their website, the district said that they were "concerned over the 'tone and content' of messages they had received," according to a 2015 report by The Washington Post.
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