A West Virginia parent, Rich Penkoski, was displeased to see his seventh-grade daughter bring home a "calligraphy" assignment that asked students to write an Islamic pledge to Allah in Arabic last week.
He contacted the principal, Ron Branch, at Mountain Ridge Middle School — and wanted an explanation as to why his daughter was asked to inscribe the shahada.
The Arabic passage translates to "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah."
"I saw the assignment of writing the shahada in Arabic. [The school's] excuse was calligraphy," Penkoski told The Christian Post.
"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," the father continued.
"I said, 'That is not happening. My daughter is not doing that,'" Penkoski added. "My daughter told me that if she didn't do the assignment, then she was going to get a [detention] slip."
Penkoski said the school told him that the teacher, Katherine Hinson, had only added the calligraphy worksheet with the Islamic religion packet as an optional exercise. The dad believes he was given this line because he raised objections, according to The Christian Post.
"If it was optional, then why was there no option for comparison for Judaism and Christianity? There was no option to recite any of the Lord's Prayer and [the] Ten Commandments. There was no option to write Hebrew," Penkoski said. "Why [was] it only [about] Islam?"
The principal of the school, Ron Branch, addressed the controversy in an email.
"There were two calligraphy activities in the packet," Branch wrote to parents and guardians. "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," he continued. "I told Mr. Penkoski that the calligraphy activity was optional, but was not assigned ... 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. She has told her class that if they had questions about religious beliefs, that those conversations should take place with their parents."
Branch argued that the three main monotheistic religions had received equal treatment — and sought to quell concerns about the study lessons.
"The units on Judaism and Christianity were about a week and a half. Each of the other units should take about a week. Jesus was taught," he said. "The students read the chapter in our textbook that discusses Christianity's belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and salvation. They also discussed the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper and Jesus' betrayal, the Trinity, and the Lord's Prayer, among other topics."
But Brielle Penkoski told The Christian Post she did not recall the Lord's Prayer's being in the Christian study lesson — and furthermore, that if students "had come home with the Lord's Prayer, we would have atheists suing all over the place." She also told The Christian Post that versions of the study materials uploaded online did not match materials her daughter had received regarding the Christian faith.
Is it any wonder that so many Christian parents cannot trust the public schools to teach their children about religion today?
In Maryland in 2016, a couple sued a school district for purportedly requiring kids to accept Islam; and Tennessee parents revolted in 2015 when a middle school gave an assignment for students to write, "Allah is the only god."
If Christians are going to be told there is a "wall of separation" between church and state, then at the very least parents do not want to see schools violating it to spread a message that advocates for the glory of Islam.