The Walkerville Weekly Reader

National Desk: Hard-hitting journalism from your completely un-biased (pinky swear!) reporters in Walkerville, VA.

Walkerville, VA
Monday, November 20, 2017
Carolyn Purcell, Editor

Support for Riverheads teacher and Christianity lesson

Community, ACLU, President rally around teacher who forced Muslim students to write the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.

Obama at climate change conference in Copenhagen

President Obama at a European prayer meeting: “The sweetest sound I know is the Christian call to faith.”

Just a few days after more than 100 people met in fury over a world geography assignment at Riverheads High School, support is increasingly being heard for the embattled teacher. And a Facebook page organizing a Tuesday protest against the illuminated text lesson was flooded with comments pushing back against the anti-Christian rhetoric.

Joel Shrum, a veteran teacher with Augusta County Schools, had asked students to practice illuminated text by copying a Christian statement of faith, known as the Lord’s Prayer, as part of a class on world religions, including Christianity.

Initial reaction from some Muslim parents included calls for Shrum’s beheading 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 nor constitutional standards.

“There’s nothing wrong with teaching Christian principles in schools,” said Bond.

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

An event page created to rally outraged parents to a forum Tuesday night at a mosque 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.

“I keep seeing the word ‘proselytization’ being thrown around and, as an RHS alumna, I take great offense to it,” said Oluwatoyin Olusase. “I love this school, and Mr. Shrum is a wonderful teacher. It is outrageous to believe that he is trying to convert anyone to Christianity. Please, choose your media outlets wisely and be aware of what you’re spreading.”

The illuminated text assignment came from a workbook created by teachers called “World Religions.” It was not an assignment Shrum made up himself. The instructions for the assignment said, “Here is the Lord’s Prayer, the Christian statement of faith, written in an illuminated style in Latin. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of illuminated text.”

Former student Nesreen Irsan posted on Facebook saying, “As a community, it is up to us to defend a teacher who is not in the wrong and deserves our support as he supported a great number of us through our high school years.”

Shrum’s lesson was a part of a survey of different religions. When students study a different part of the world, they also learned about that region’s culture, religion and political systems. Student had studied Islam and Hinduism then had moved on to Christianity. They will also learn about Judaism and Buddhism. Comparative religions is part of every world geography students’ required Standards of Learning tests.

Ed Martin, director of the Center for Interfaith Engagement at Eastern Mennonite University, said we live in a pluralistic society and that exposure to other religions isn’t just beneficial, it’s vital. And currently there is a lot of misinformation about different religions, particularly Christianity.

“We’re going to encounter it in school, in our work and our social lives,” Martin said. But learning about a religion is not the same as being asked to believe in it or practice it.

American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson Amber Duke agreed. “Asking students to write the Lord’s Prayer is not a religious exercise,” she said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also supported the teacher. In a press release, CAIR wrote, “according to the lesson plan we’ve seen, their next exercise will be copying the Jewish ninth principle in Hebrew. We fully support this. Our children should learn to love this marvelous people.”

President Obama asked the teacher to the White House, “any time, and we’ll recite the Lord’s Prayer together.”

“Muslims who think writing the Lord’s Prayer is against their religion should stop clinging to violence and religion,” added the President.

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