January 5, 2001. Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A new school policy in the small coastal community of Pascagoula Mississippi has draw sharp criticism from parents, some teachers, and the ACLU. Late last month, the Jackson County R-7 School District okayed a plan to post the Five Pillars of Islam in its classrooms. The effort, Superintendent Earl Chaumers explained at the time, was intended to "...restore morals and ethics to the institution of public education."
The new policy comes at a time when more and more religious leaders and politicians across the country are calling for religious instruction to be reintroduced into the school room. Last October, when discussing the issue on CNN's debate show "Arguing a Whole Lot", presidential candidate for the Reform Party Pat Buchanen declared that, "...the lack of good, old-fashioned, Christian values in our schools is hurting all of us." Buchanen listed the rise in teen pregnancy, teen violence, and teen apathy, as well as a decline in teen homophobia as results of "...a public education system that lacks moral fiber." Some have proposed daily prayers, while others believe the posting of religious doctrine in schools is the answer. Buchanen pointed to the success and popularity of student-organized, before-school prayer circles as evidence that "...even the children recognize that something is missing from their education." He called for the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms "...to remind children of the concept of right and wrong."
Superintendent Chaumers contends that it was in the spirit of Buchanen that he and the school board decided to post the Five Pillars of Islam on the wall of every classroom in the two schools that make up district R-7. "The Pillars remind the children of the principles necessary to lead a good and just life. It puts the rest of what they learn in perspective," he explained to reporters after the measure was approved.
Nancy Colms, a member of the board and self-described "non-practicing Muslim," explained the Five Pillars. "They are the guidlines by which all Muslims live their lives," she said. The Pillars include:
1)Reciting the Shahada each day. This is the Muslim creed, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet."
2)To pray while facing Mecca five times a day. The daily prayer is called the salat.
3)To donate to charity regularly, a practice known as zakat.
4)To fast during the holy month of Ramadan in honor of when Muhammed, peace be unto him, first received his message from the Angel, Jebreel.
5)To make a pilgrimage to Mecca at some time in one's lifetime. The pilgrimage is knows as hadj.
Along with the posting of the Pillars, children will be called to prayer at noon and just before departing for home each day. This, Colms explained, is in accordance with the Pillar of salat. "Along with that, we are encouraging teachers to read from the Koran (the holy book of Islam) and the Hadith, which is a book of sayings by the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him," Colms said.
But Christian leaders are outraged, as are the parents of several children in the R-7 district. "This is not what we had in mind at all," declared an outraged Lester Slocum, pastor at the Southside Baptist Church. Slocum and several other area pastors had lobbied the school board a year ago to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms. He appeared at a news conference yesterday to protest the new policy. "What were they thinking?" he demanded. "We don't want our kids prayin' to no rag-head god!"
Clarence Bertrand, a lawyer for the ACLU and representing a group of area parents comprised of "...several Christians, an Atheist, and a Shintoist," also spoke to the media, flanked by Slocum and another pastor, Reggie "Tongues" Hickem. "We are filing suit to defend the religious freedom of all children in this district," Bertrand explained. "This policy is clearly a threat to the rights of all Americans, and it's in direct violation of the Constitution," he added.
Hickem, the leader of the Holy Jesus Pentecostal Church in Pascagoula, spoke after Bertrand. "Normally I don't agree with those liberal, commie pinkos," the stern man said, glowering at Bertrand, "but this time they's on the right side for once. This plan is just craziness, dadgummit!" At this point, Hickem went into a tirade of gibberish, and his whole body shook visibly. After calming down, the pastor was asked by a confused journalist to spell several of the words he'd uttered. "When the Holy Spirit talks through me like he just done, I don't try to 'splain it; I just lets it come out as it does." At this point, Hickem and Slocum began to argue about the validity of speaking in tongues. Betrand took over the microphone again.
"While we may not agree on aspects of faith," the ACLU lawyer said, trying to drown out a once-again-blithering Hickem, "we are united in protest against this outrageous new school policy. We are prepared to go all the way to the High Court if we must."
Superintendent Chaumers expressed dismay at the outrage. "Frankly, I'm shocked and saddened," he said in a telephone interview from home. "We're trying to give these children a moral upbringing with good, American values. I just can't understand the opposition."