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The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That particular bit of wisdom is being proved true once again, as today we struggle as a country to balance inclusiveness with individual freedom, respect with the wish to speak our minds. These issues are front and center after a dust-up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, when a field trip to a local Muslim cultural center seemed to some parents to go too far.
According to FOXNews, the mosque field trip was for a 6th grade social studies class called "Enduring Beliefs and the World Today," a class on world belief systems. Other field trips had included trips to a synagogue, a gospel concert and a visit with local Hindu representatives. Good intentions abound. The trip to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, one of the largest mosques in the Northeast, was supposed to instruct students about the architecture of a mosque and allow them to observe a prayer service. Things went a bit awry at that time.
FOX reports that a parent chaperone on the trip video-taped the visit. The tape reportedly shows a spokeswoman for the mosque telling students, "You have to believe in Allah, and Allah is the one God, the only one worthy of worship, all forgiving, all merciful." Further, mosque representatives later separated the group by gender and invited male students to join the traditional Muslim prayers.
In a time where written permission is required by many schools to apply sunscreen, this may be a bit more participation than parents had been lead to believe would occur. Lack of parental consent and right to control the education of their children is an issue and may figure in a lawsuit being considered by the video-taping parent. First Amendment questions regarding teaching of religion in school will also be issue.
One disapproving commentator noted to FOX that had the incident occurred in a Catholic church where communion was given to the children, "The furor would be visible from outer space." Well, possibly not in Massachusetts, the state with the second highest Catholic population in the nation, but the point remains.
FOX reports the Muslim American Society of Boston told the Boston Globe that no one asked the students to participate in the prayers. "Certainly in our tours we do not invite kids to take part, but if someone wants to come and pray and take part, we shouldn't prevent them," the group's president, Bilal Kaleem, told the newspaper. "It's more an issue with the school."
The school has apologized for the mosque field trip and will no doubt work more in the future on the fine line between tolerance and that old rugged individualism we say we prize.