Students protest pastor's Quran-burning plans

Baltimore middle-schoolers among local voices speaking out against Fla. event

  • Seventh- and eighth-grade students from City Neighbors Charter School gather at Belair and Glenmore roads to protest the Quran burning scheduled for Saturday in Florida.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students from City Neighbors Charter… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
September 10, 2010|By Liz F. Kay and Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Quran — originally scheduled for Saturday , the anniversary of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks — has been the subject of heated debate around the country, across the globe and in classrooms of a Northeast Baltimore school.

A group of students from City Neighbors Charter School gathered on Belair Road at Glenmore Avenue early Friday morning to protest in favor of tolerance. They shouted and waved signs urging drivers to hit their horns to support religious freedom — and motorists obliged.

"It was really good to see some Americans still want this to be America, a freedom-filled country," said Molli McKinney, a 12-year-old eighth-grader who helped organize the protest.

About 15 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders held signs with slogans such as "Muslims are people too" and "Honk for Religious Freedom" from 7:30 a.m. until just before their first class began at 8:15 a.m.

"This is trying to show that Americans don't all stand with Reverend [Terry] Jones," said City Neighbors social studies teacher Peter French.

The theme of his class this year is "dangerous ideas." As the students debated whether a Muslim center should be built near the World Trade Center site in New York, the Quran-burning controversy arose.

Motivated by the uproar, several children met at lunch to make signs for the protest. They also wrote a letter to Jones, urging him to cancel his event. They faxed the letter, with 82 student and parent signatures, to the minister Friday after their protest.

"We are all against burning the Quran because we think it's disrespectful," said eighth-grader and protest organizer Lucy Bull, 13.

Leaders of Muslim and other religious communities in Maryland also spoke out about the Quran burning.

Anwer Hasan, a board member of the Maryland Muslim Council and a former Howard County Muslim Council president, said Jones' actions could be misinterpreted abroad. "People here understand that he has only 50 people in support," he said. "But somebody 10,000 miles away has no idea and thinks it's the whole American society."

By contrast, Irfan Malik, a Howard County businessman and Muslim community leader, had worries closer to home. He said he and other Muslims fear that the Jones incident could be the start of a renewed trend toward intolerance of Muslims in the United States.

But the Rev. Mark Stanley of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Baltimore, said he has not found anyone who is not aghast at what is being proposed.

"We're people of a book," he said, as are Jews and Muslims. "I'm troubled that any Christian would be involved in burning books to begin with, but someone else's holy book is even more troubling," he said.

At the school protest, eighth-grader Evan Strader echoed some of Stanley's concerns.

"How would he feel if a Muslim wanted to burn a Bible?" asked the 13-year-old. "It's kind of hypocritical."

Seventh-grader Princess Winder, 12, said that people are blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few. "I just think something one person did is being taken out on the whole religion," she said as she walked to join the group Friday morning.

Jones had said Thursday that he would postpone the burning if officials who planned to build a Muslim center near the World Trade Center would open it somewhere else.

"Personally, I don't think it's up to him," Princess said.

Princess' father, Tyrone Winder, watched the start of the protest from his car.

"I've been trying to teach her you have to stand up for what you believe in," he said. "It's a good thing, what they're doing. It's a group of Muslims, not the whole religion."

Virginia Crawford received a flier Thursday about the protest at the school. She and her sons, who attend first grade and fourth grade at City Neighbors, joined French and his students Friday morning with a "What would Jesus burn?" sign.

"I was so impressed they even knew this was going on, that they cared enough to come out," she said.

Molli McKinney said the national debate about the Muslim center brought out a lot of racism and fear of Islam.

"We want America to be what America was created for — a country for everybody," she said.

Local religious groups have collaborated with Muslims regularly since the Sept. 11 attacks. For example, members of Columbia's Beth Shalom congregation worked with Howard County Muslims in April to help repair a home in Mount Airy.

Pausing from her celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom said American law allows someone to burn the American flag, the Torah or the Bible.

"The most important thing is that we speak out against intolerance. Christians, Muslims and Jews must stand up," she said.

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