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In Virginia’s Bible Belt, an Arabic lesson ignites anger

  • ASSOCIATED PRESSS

    In this Friday photo, abandoned jackets hang on a fence at Wilson Elementary School in Fishersville, Va. after the cancellation of classes at Augusta County Public Schools.

VERONA, Va. >> With the nation already on edge after the attacks in California, a teacher’s lesson on Islam in Virginia’s Bible Belt sparked an angry meeting of outraged parents that mushroomed into a national denunciation of the educator in the form of thousands of angry emails and social media postings.

As a result, an estimated 10,000 students in Augusta County’s public school system got a one-day jump on the Christmas break as a precaution. The cancellation of classes Friday also wiped out a holiday concert and weekend sporting events.

Some of the tens of thousands of emails and Facebook posts “posed a risk of harm to school officials” and threatened protests, Superintendent Eric Bond said in a message to parents and employees Friday.

Augusta County Sheriff Randall D. Fisher said the emails slowly began arriving, but picked up in volume and vitriol after a national conservative radio personality discussed the lesson.

“They started becoming very threatening, very profane,” he said. “There was a lot of hate being spewed in these emails.”

Some, Fisher said, had images of beheadings.

Fisher said security has been assigned to Bond, the school’s principal and teacher Cheryl LaPorte, who created the lesson. LaPorte is worried about herself and her family, Fisher said.

The school closings came one week after the teacher gave Riverheads High School students an assignment that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a statement in Arabic — the Shahada, a profession of faith recited in Muslims’ daily prayers.

The statement translated to: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” The teacher’s lesson was drawn from instructional material that also includes Judeo-Christian assignments.

School officials said the aim of the lesson was to illustrate the complexity of the written Arabic language, not to promote any religious system, and a different sample text will be used in the future.

But some in this deeply religious area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains said the lesson angered them, especially because of what they said were efforts to marginalize Christianity in the schools.

Jackie Duff, a Baptist, said LaPorte should have been mindful of the slayings of 14 in San Bernardino this month by a couple who had become radicalized.

“I think their wanting to take prayer away from school, their wanting to take God out of textbooks, that was really like a slap in the face,” Duff said over dinner at a fast-food restaurant outside Staunton.

She did not agree, however, with the hateful emails directed at LaPorte.

“I don’t think that they should be attacking her in that manner,” Duff said.

At a forum Tuesday, one parent said the assignment promoted a false religious doctrine, while other parents expressed outrage. Some demanded the teacher be fired.

LaPorte declined comment. A Facebook group supporting her had more than 2,000 members Friday. Many in this Shenandoah Valley community defended LaPorte and the school district.

“I think people are making a big deal about it for no reason at all,” said 18-year-old Hannah Carey, a former student of LaPorte who lives in Waynesboro. “We learned about all different cultures, and she was a great teacher.”

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Associated Press reporters Alanna Durkin and Alan Suderman contributed to this report from Richmond.

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  • Set the latest and fancy technology on the side for a moment, and we can still see that nothing at all has changed on this world. Still have hatred and corruption.

      • I dont agree with what she did. I think its fine she wanted to give an assignment on the writings but the teachers could have easily had them write “the ocean is beautiful” or “the desert is hot”. There is absolutely no reason to ignite a fire with ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Not right now, not with all the troubles in the world. Wrong place, wrong time.

        • We should view a person as a human being before judging what religion that are. All that are requesting for is respect for their culture. Much like what our native Hawaiians are doing right here in Hawaii.

    • Sounds like you don’t believe Islamic extremism poses a threat to America. The vast majority of Americans believe otherwise, in fact they believe it’s the single greatest threat to us all. But not to worry Klastri, it’s all just hocus pocus right.

      • There are a lot of threats, and some of them are manufactured or trumped up (word chosen carefully) to continue the culture of fear that you apparently live in. You can live the life of a coward, but I choose not to.

  • Regarding: “LaPorte is worried about herself and her family, Fisher said.”

    Compare it to a teacher in muslim-land who assigned her students to learn about Jewish signs and symbols.

    Then “The ignorance on display in Islam about Jewish faith is breathtaking. It’s a Islamic disgrace.”

    • and the point that you’re trying to make is … what??

      The whole point of school and education is to teach so that students learn. This world would be in a far better place if we took the time to educate ourselves about people who are different from what we’re used to. Just because you learn about something does not mean you’re also supposed to incorporate it into your personal life. Shame on these “Bible belt” haters who are so myopic and bigoted.

      • People take their religion and their children seriously. This Teachers appears to be teaching Islamic phrases to children without their parents knowledge or permission. What is the purpose of teaching children islamic text that directly conflicts with the religious beliefs of their parents and the majority of americans? She has no business teaching religion in a public school, especially without the parents approval. Common sense you would think but perhaps it’s not so common anymore.
        The statement translated to: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” I can see why parents would not want such a phase to be taught to their kids, particularly in light of what’s happening in world today with islamic extremism. The teacher should have known better, she has poor judgement and should apologize to the parents for her actions.

        • A very poor timing for instructional purposes to teach calligraphy especially during this holiday season when public schools are prohibited from referencing the season to the Christian religion? More so when the calligraphy makes reference to one of the Pillars of the Muslim religion. The teacher’s motive or intent seems odd.

        • Teacher should have better sense than that especially in hillbilly country. Let the kids choose their beliefs on their own.

  • This is sooooo messed up! Muslims and Christians all worship the SAME GOD! One is called The Almighty God Jehovah, the other is called “ALLAH”! This is stupid! The Angel Gabriel was the messenger that came to Muhammad. If you know your Bible,you would know that Gabriel is the Same Angel ,that spoke to many prophets and Jesus’s Diciples…… The beginnings of the END?

    • And on top of everything- this was a calligraphy lesson- they were copying the flow of the script. It had nothing to do with teaching religion. Simple minds.

      • How can you say it had nothing to do with religion? It was religious text taken directly from the daily prayers of Muslims worldwide. The written form of this islamic text was taught and translation provided to the children, for what purpose do you suppose? And all without the Parents knowledge or permission. Ill-advised to say the least.

        • Really? It had nothing to do with TEACHING religion- they were TEACHING calligraphy- they were tracing lines. No one asked them to recite or memorize the passage. Get a grip.

        • “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah”
          How can you say this has nothing to do with religion? There are many phrases I’m sure that she could have chosen that no one would have objected to, she chose a religious one and you or I really have no way of knowing why. Some would assume she is attempting to indoctrinate her students which is inappropriate on so many levels. That may not have been her goal but she opened herself up to that sort of accusation for sure.

    • Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God and to suggest to marginalize both. Christians worship a God who is three persons (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), Muslims worship a god who is one person. Such a statement conveys ignorance and if this teacher made such a statement, he/she would have been wrong as well.

  • interesting but it is reported that President Obama wears a gold ring with the “shahada inscription ” and has done so since he was in college.
    He has been photographed wearing the ring on many occasions. If he is really not of the Moslem faith he does seem sympathetic to this religion.
    Under Islamic law, anyone born of a Moslem father is automatically considered to be of the Moselm faith unless that person declares otherwise.
    Under Islamic law, President Obama must therefore be presumed to be of that faith.

  • Wait just a minute. Liberals have succeeded in stopping school prayers. Students are prohibited from giving thanks to God or Jesus in commencement addresses. Any reference to God or Jesus in public schools is prohibited. So why is it OK for students to be assigned a project to write a statement in Arabic that says “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah?”

  • It would have done the teacher, Cheryl LaPorte, well to have immediately and vigorously made a public statement defending the curriculum. Since she failed to do so, and because school officials have stated that the instructional material will be changed in the future, it appears the specific lesson that sparked the controversy was ill chosen. Either you believe in what you’re teaching or you don’t. Either the lesson plan is defensible or it isn’t. It’s really that simple.

    • I don’t think the islamic calligraphy was the issue, the problem was her choice of phrases which directly conflicted with the beliefs of the majority of Americans and obviously the parents involved.

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