Recently, in the town of Friendswood, Texas (south of Houston), a Muslim student was bullied. In response, the principal invited representatives from an Islamic organization to give an informational presentation about Islam. I’ve seen the PowerPoint presentation–it’s simply informative, dealing with issues students might raise. It is content that should be covered in any Social Studies class at that grade level. But a group calling itself the Houston Area Pastors Council was outraged. They branded it “forced religious instruction by an activist Islamic organization.” They accused the presenters, whom they called “evangelists,” of being linked to “terrorist organizations.” They declared,
Friendswood has deep roots in the Christian faith and is still a close knit community of people who have strong beliefs in the core Judeo-Christian values that built the city, state and nation. Every parent and community member who has communicated with us has been deeply concerned about this action and has expressed that changes must be made.
As a result of the protests they organized, the principal was canned (though the principal says she requested a new assignment). The school superintendent said,
Friendswood is a faith-based community and founded on these principles. The school district has always and will continue to honor that heritage.
In fact, Friendswood was founded by members of the Society of Friends—Quakers—who were quite familiar with bigotry and prejudice. In the mid-1600s, several were hanged publicly on Boston Common. The Quaker heritage is one of religious tolerance and respect. This presentation was perfectly in keeping with that heritage. The actions of the Pastors Council and the school district, on the other hand, have much in common with those from whom the Friends fled.
It’s sad that at a time when we need to be learning about the faiths of others in our neighborhoods, that some fundamentalist Christian organizations want to revive intolerance, hate, and fear.