A Staunton, Virginia, high school teacher sparked controversy Dec. 11 after asking students during a world religions lesson to practice calligraphy by writing, "There is no god but Allah."
As part of an assignment to teach students about other religions like Islam, Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte reportedly instructed her high schoolers to copy a piece of Arabic text known as the Shahada, a commonly expressed statement of faith by Muslims.
Students were not asked to translate or recite the statement, the Staunton News Leader notes.
However, the move angered many parents and unsettled some students, with some saying the teacher is attempting to indoctrinate students into Islam.
"If it was [just to teach calligraphy] why couldn't we just learn to write 'hello,' 'goodbye'... you know normal words, not that," Laurel Truxell, a student in the class, told WHSV.
Parent Kimberly Herndon, whose 9th grade son was given the assignment by La Porte, hosted a public forum to call for the teacher's termination.
"She [LaPorte] gave up the Lord's time," Herndon said. "She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed."
"I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian, and I'm going to stand behind Christ," Herndon added.
In a Dec. 15 statement, Augusta County School Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond defended the teacher, saying the point of the lesson was to teach students about world cultures and religions.
He said students will receive similar assignments when they study Africa and China later in the school year.
"The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy, " Bond said.
However, Herndon disagreed.
"This evil has been cloaked in the form of multiculturalism," she wrote in a Dec. 11 Facebook post.
She added that students "unknowingly were instructed to denounce our Lord by copying this creed of Islam."
The Virginia Department of Education told the News Leader that LaPorte's assignments were in line with "Standards of Learning and the requirements for content instruction on world monotheistic religions."