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By Mark Ellis, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA (ANS) — Jen Shroder's suspicions were first aroused by her seventh grade son's assignment to create a Hindu "Tree of Life," with instructions to use pastels to "make your tree come alive." Then she started reading his textbook, and couldn’t believe its obvious slant favoring other religions over Christianity.
"I found 20 Islamic beliefs stated as fact," says Jen Shroder, a reluctant but determined crusader and mother of two. "For my son to obey the school, he must disobey what the Bible tells him," she says.
With the help of the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal organization defending religious freedom, Shroder launched a lawsuit recently to remove the offending textbook from seventh grade classes.
An ASSIST story by Austin Miles about student activities in another California city—Byron—ignited a storm of protest and intense media coverage about the California curriculum, which uses the book Across The Centuries, published by Houghton-Mifflin.
"The book instructs our children to ‘imagine you are a Muslim soldier’ and write about it," Shroder says. "It says to ‘imagine you are on a Mecca pilgrimage and write about it,’" she says. Students are instructed to "form small groups to build a miniature mosque" using cardboard and papier mache. "Another assignment is to write why other nations are attracted to Islam." The book was first approved for use throughout California in 1991.
Although many portions of the book preface statements about Islamic beliefs using qualifiers such as "Muslims believe," the following statements did not, essentially presenting the material as fact: "The Quran is the final revelation, just as Mohammad is the final prophet." (p.62 of textbook) "Ramadan is a holy time, because in this month Muhammad received his first message from Allah" (p.63).
Another passage from the textbook says, "Arabic lettering had a special significance for Muslims, because it was used to write down God’s words as they had been given to Muhammad" (p.88).
"From Jerusalem, both Muham-mad and Gabriel ascended into heaven, where Muhammad spoke to God. These revelations confirmed both Muhammad’s belief in one God, or monotheism, and his role as the last messenger in a long line of prophets sent by God. The God he believed in—Allah—is the same God of other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity" (p.59). Many Christians and Jews would dispute the previous statement, presented in a very factual and authoritative way.
In another part of the Islam unit, the text states "Muhammad’s success in spreading Islam was due in large part to his strong character. His followers were attracted to his morality, courage, and compassion, perhaps as much as they were attracted to his teaching" (p.65).
While the curriculum’s brief mention of Christianity highlights the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials, none of the violent history of Islam is exposed. In fact, the text states "Many different peoples benefited from Muslim tolerance."
Another section of the book says "During the Middle Ages, many Christians saw themselves as sinful creatures struggling to get into heaven. But humanists did not see people as sinful. They thought people had dignity, worth, and the ability to achieve almost anything."
"What a wretched way to paint the Christian," Shroder says.
Shroder’s seventh grade son, Eric, came home complaining about his assignments. "My son said the assignments ‘hurt his stomach,’" she says. "He is well-grounded and he loves the Lord, so it is polluting to tell him to build a mosque."
Eric’s father has largely been absent from his life. "He doesn’t really have a dad," Shroder says. "Eric is kind of shy, but he’s got a heart of gold," she says. "He said, ‘Mom, it hurts my stomach every time they present evolution as a fact’—it just makes him sick."
The textbook is only one issue for Shroder. "To me the textbook is just a small part of a bigger picture," she says. "California is the problem here," she says. "I feel the teachers at my school are doing a fabulous job because they didn’t do all those things that they could have done."
At nearby Laguna Middle School, also in San Luis Obispo county, Shroder was informed that a teacher was "dressed up in robes trying to get the kids into the spirit of Islam."
When Shroder contacted an administrator at her son's school to complain, he was "very nice," and he asked if there was anything they could "work out in the meantime while all this legality stuff is going on?"
"I said, ‘Could you please ask the teachers to back off having the kids imagine they’re Muslim soldiers?"
"He said he didn’t think enough parents would object—so he wasn’t willing to do that."
"I said, ‘Are you going to ask our kids some day to imagine they’re homosexuals?’"
Shroder’s compassion goes out to others who have fought a lonely battle in the last few years over these kinds of issues, with little attention given to their efforts. "I have such a heart for Valerie Moore," she says, referring to the mom who arrived at a middle school in Elk Grove, California and was greeted by a huge banner that read, ‘There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.’ This happened in 1994.
A news account in World Net Daily says Moore witnessed children "dressed in Muslim attire, chanting from the Koran and praying while marching around the cabala," but when Moore complained to school officials she was "ridiculed and laughed at."
"That really pierced my heart," Shroder says. "I remember all the times I cried because nobody seemed to care about all the affronts to Christianity," she says. "I grieve for all the women crying because nobody cared about their religious freedoms—they were kicked around."
Shroder knows some will criticize her for being close-minded. "The opposition says we need to have knowledge," Shroder says. "But that’s where Eve went wrong," she says, "eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge is their god."
"Was it good for John Walker to taste Islam?" she asks, referring to the American Taliban captured in Afghanistan.
A Fox News reporter interviewed Shroder recently and asked her who she blamed, listing a "hierarchy" of school officials.
"I looked him straight in the eye and said 'Satan,'" Shroder says. "There was a look of shock on his face," she says. "I know the world is going to call me a lunatic, but I could care less. This cause is bigger than me."
Shroder began donating a portion of her tithe to The Pacific Justice Institute and hopes others will support the non-profit legal foundations fighting for religious freedom. "Everybody is up in arms now but I’m afraid it’s going to die out and nothing is going to happen," she laments. Meanwhile, Shroder has endured death threats, people spitting at her, and objects thrown in her direction.
A few days ago, Shroder took flowers to her son’s teacher and school principal. She says she felt prompted by the Holy Spirit. "Jesus told me, I died for these people—they are not your enemies."
"I am learning fast I need to watch my words—God is keeping me humble."