Teacher Gave 6th-Grade Students Reading That Called Islam ‘Immoral And Corrupting’
By Christopher Mathias
The Huffington Post
The Catholic diocese of Orlando, Florida, says it has reprimanded a teacher at a Catholic school in the state for giving his sixth-grade religion class an anti-Muslim reading assignment.
Mark Smythe, a religion and social studies teacher at Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala, gave students printouts of a 19th-century Catholic text that refers to Islam as a “monstrous mixture” of faiths. It also calls the doctrines of the Prophet Muhammad “ridiculous, immoral and corrupting.”
“We have spoken to the principal of Blessed Trinity Catholic School, Ocala and to the teacher in question and have reprimanded the teacher for this unfortunate exhibit of disrespect,” Jacquelyn Flanigan, an associate superintendent at the Diocese of Orlando’s Catholic school system, said in a statement.
Flanigan didn’t elaborate on what she meant by “reprimanded.” Smythe did not respond to a request for comment.
A concerned mother with a child in Smythe’s class gave copies of the reading assignment to a friend, who then sent the copies to The Huffington Post through the Documenting Hate project.
“[The mother] shared this with me while she could not stop crying,” the friend wrote.
The reading assignment appears to be an excerpt from an 1853 text about Islam by priest Giovanni Bosco, who later became a saint.
In the imagined dialogue between a father and his sons, the father explains how Jesus Christ is superior to the Prophet Muhammad, who “degrades and dishonors human nature and by placing all happiness in sensual pleasures, reduces man to the level of filthy animals.”
Elsewhere in the text, Muhammad is described as a “charlatan,” “villain,” “ignoramus,” “imposter” and “false prophet” who “couldn’t even write” and “propagated his religion, not through miracles or persuasive words, but by military force.”
The Quran, the holy book of Islam, is also called “a series of errors, the most enormous ones being against morality and the worship of the true God.”
An internet search for Bosco’s take on Islam shows it is primarily referenced on fringe conservative Catholic sites and in the comment sections of anti-Muslim hate sites.
Leaders within Ocala’s interfaith community said they were shocked and upset to see the reading assignment.
Humeraa Qamar, who is Muslim and whose Muslim daughter once attended Blessed Trinity, emailed the school to say the assignment “caused a lot of distress to the students in [the] class and also understandingly to the Muslim Americans living in Ocala, Fl including our family.”
Rabbi David Kaiman of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Gainesville also emailed the school, writing that the reading was “dangerous and destructive and feeds those who seek to hate vilify,” and that it “expresses a hate language that is disturbing.”
He added that the “tone and factual content is outdated and not reflective of Catholic doctrine,” and pointed to statements from a long succession of popes expressing love and respect for Muslims and the Islamic faith.
“I take pride to quote the words of John Paul II in speaking of Islam in 1985,” Kaiman wrote. “’[There] are the important differences which we can accept with the humility and respect, in mutual tolerance; this is a mystery about which, I am certain, God will one day enlighten us.’”
Flanigan, the associate superintendent of Orlando Diocese schools, said “the information provided in the sixth grade class is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
She pointed to Nostra Aetate, an official Vatican document Pope Paul VI released on Oct. 28, 1965. It stated that the Catholic Church regards Muslims “with esteem” and urged Catholics to work with Muslims for peace and social justice.
Jordan Denari Duffner, a Catholic research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative who studies Islamophobia, said it’s not uncommon for people on some conservative websites to selectively cite centuries-old anti-Muslim texts written by Catholic scholars and saints.
“It’s a general trend that I’ve noticed,” she said of people preferring “the particular saints from earlier in church history over the Vatican II’s take on Islam.”
The Vatican II, or The Second Vatican Council, was a meeting of all Catholic bishops in the early 1960s. It ushered in a series of reforms to liberalize and modernize the Church, including a move to more warmly embrace Muslims and Islam.
But a September 2016 survey from the Bridge Initiative found that 30 percent of Catholics in America have unfavorable views of Muslims, with only 14 percent saying they had favorable views. It also found that people “who consume content from Catholic media outlets have more unfavorable views” of Muslims than those who don’t.
Smythe is among a handful of teachers across the country who have been reprimanded over the last year for distributing racist or anti-Muslim reading material to students.
Last year in Texas, a teacher was disciplined for a handout ― printed off anti-Muslim hate sites ― that described Islam as an “ideology of war” led by the “false prophet” Muhammad.
A teacher in Michigan was suspended for passing out an assignment called “The Top 10 Talents Of Miss Iraq,” which listed “Blowing self up in a car in a parking lot,” “Describing what they would look like in a bathing suit if they were permitted to wear one” and “Withstanding the kick of a donkey.”
Parents across the country have also launched campaigns to either eliminate school lessons about Islam, or to remove positive depictions of Islam from school textbooks.
When a high school teacher in Virginia had students copy the Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, as part of a calligraphy lesson, parents accused the teacher of trying to indoctrinate their children. The backlash became so heated that district closed schools across the county for a day.
In Texas, protesters stood outside the first day of a kindergarten class that included an Arabic immersion program. And in Tennessee, state legislators introduced legislation “to officially stop Islamic religious indoctrination in Tennessee schools” after outcry over an innocuous lessons about the Five Pillars of Islam.