Keep religious belief separate from our secular, public, tax supported classrooms

By Donald A. Collins | 15 April 2015
Church and State

I came upon an article which got me thinking about religious education in public schools that goes beyond the tone and tenor of the piece, published by a conservative blog site.

Titled “Pennsylvania Teachers Get Tax-Paid Training in Bowing to Allah” By Cheryl Chumley, June 12, 2015, NewsWithViews.com.

It began by reporting that

Fifty or so teachers and administrators with the Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania, including the superintendent, were just given a day of specialized training on Islam — at taxpayers’ expense — that wrapped with them hitting the floors of a local mosque, in the required shoeless fashion, and partaking of the faith’s call to prayer.

Can you say what the –?

Or better yet, how about imaging this “what if” scenario: Fifty or so teachers and administrators with one Pennsylvania school district were just given a day of specialized training on the Baptist faith — at taxpayers’ expense — that wrapped with them hitting the sanctuary of a local church and joining the congregation in prayer.

Now is it outrageous?

The Lebanon Daily News first reported the day-long Muslim-inspired venture, describing it as a way for school officials to learn more about their district’s growing Arabic population — in much the same vein they would for, say, Hispanics.

In pointing out what have become a myriad of cultural divides, the author states the obvious, “At the same time, there’s no way the politically correct crowd would handshake any deal that brought teachers to a Christian church during the tax-paid school day. In that instance, the loudly proclaimed denial would be: “It’s separation of church and state!”

Or does she? Her next sentence is “But with Islam, at the Lebanon school district, the Islam training and mosque visit seemed necessary educational experiences.

“That said, the workshop was headed up by Mohamed Omar, a former teacher aide and Arabic translator for the school district who also previously served as president of the mosque. Omar, who moved from Egypt to America in 2000, is now employed by the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia, but was able to take a day off work to instruct the teachers and administrators, and bring them to the mosque.”

Hey, just an educational day trip like one might take the class to a modern bakery to smell the doughnuts? Or to a machine shop to see widgets being extruded?

Once on location, she tells us “There, teachers removed their shoes, in line with mosque requirements, and joined several members of the facility in sitting on the floor for a quick 20-minute instructional on the ins and outs of Islamism, and how the faith compares to Christianity. Some even bowed to Allah, the Daily Caller reported.”

Now we know a bunch of tax payer money already goes to support private religious schools and other institutions such as hospitals which when run by Catholics restrict the provision of family planning services including abortion which was supposed to be available on demand after the 1973 Roe vs Wade Supreme Court Decision. But of course has since gotten badly weakened with a 1000 legislative cuts from its opponents.

But to these supposedly secular public students (the article doesn’t say what ages they were), the clear religious message gets extolled by the teacher — “We believe we will be judged by God,” Omar told the participants, the local newspaper reported. “The more good deeds we do, God will forgive us in the end. … You must work. Faith without work will not be accepted.”

Now we who are not members of Islam might ask where does Omar get the authority to claim that “God will forgive us in the end”, but impressionable youngsters have already bowed to his example.

I buy the importance of having Faith — in something either of this world or in one’s imagination — so long as those beliefs are not rammed up my nose by authorities—as long as I am not engaging in destructive or criminal activity. And certainly I have always been for hard work, but does the statement from the Imam that “Faith without work will not be accepted” suggest obedience to Allah is the only way to go? You decide.

That this field trip was unique was happily noted: “Mosque founder Hamid Housni was apparently amazed at the school’s outreach, calling it ‘the first time ever in the United States that a school district goes to a mosque’ and saying ‘we don’t have words to explain to you how we appreciate that.’”

Well, the complete multiculturalism now rampant in the USA certainly give license to the joy expressed by one observer.

English-as-a-Second-Language teacher Lara Book called the day amazing — a real learning moment.

“It’s important that we educate ourselves about cultures that are different from our own and that we try to eliminate some misunderstandings,” she said, EAGNews.org reported. And notably, the lessons she learned?

“Basically, although our cultures are different, the fundamentals of them are similar and we all want the same things: happiness for our families, health and success,” she said, “Although we might go about finding those things in our lives differently, from a cultural standpoint, we all want the same thing.”

However, the article’s author at least offers strong cautionary views:

Except — we don’t. One only has to look to ISIS to see how the Koran’s interpreted by many Muslims. Or, to the many nations in the Middle East and their views of Israel. Or, at a burqa-clad female. If teachers want to educate themselves on the pros and cons of Islam, that’s fine, so long as it’s on their own time. But the bigger issue is this: Should taxpayers be paying for teachers to bow down to Allah during the school day?

Talk about a propaganda tool. We can only hope teacher Book’s reaction to the training session wasn’t representative of what all 50 of those in attendance learned as well.

Thinking about education on religion in the USA makes us aware of the options provided by many institutions including those of higher learning many of which were set up by religious organizers.

One could assume that learning more about Islam is a must as the number of its believers grows in America. Freedom of religion is a central tenet of our Constitution, but paying for such education from taxpayers money has for too long been blended into the political power of the advocates of any particular faith.

You can applaud or be aghast at the Lebanon story, but to me keeping separate the provision of any particular religious belief from our secular, public, tax supported classrooms remains a precious goal, sadly too often being ignored in this case and in numerous others worldwide.

Remember religious fervor takes many forms. And in its extreme practices if powerful enough inflicts its attacks on all points of view and subjugates everyone it can to its code of behavior. Islamic examples of Inquisition like behavior can be found many places, including, I suspect, without most of us knowing about them in the USA.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00MA40TVE
Kindle Store

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

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