A West Virginia school district finds itself in the midst of controversy after a Berkeley County middle school teacher taught a unit on world religions, and a parent spoke out, claiming the class spent an excessive amount of time on Islam.
"My daughter had come home with an assignment and said, 'Dad, can you take a look at this?'" Rich Penkoski, the pastor of Warriors for Christ ministry based in West Virginia, told CBN News. "It was an assignment on Islam, and she knew something was wrong because they were specifically asking her to write the shahada, after telling them what the shahada was."
The shahada is "the Islamic profession of faith, 'There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger'", according to Dictionary.com.
"And they tried to do it under the guise of calligraphy by saying that Arabic was calligraphy (and) what not," Penkoski said. "As I looked further into the assignment, this 30-page packet, they wanted the kids to fast for 24 hours – with parents' permission."
"They said, 'Ask your parents if you can fast for 24 hours and give your money away,' to kind of sympathize with those who are going through Ramadan, and then asked them to write their feelings about it," he continued.
"So I immediately said, 'Absolutely not. You're not doing this assignment,' and I called the school, and left a message for the principal," Penkoski said.
He told CBN News the principal said the teacher regretted handing out that packet.
Penkoski said the overall unit also upset him because the Christianity part of the unit only had four pages in contrast with the Islamic lesson, which had 30.
In addition, Penkoski said the faith tenets of Christianity like the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments were not included in the teaching, but the Five Pillars of Islam were.
"(It) even had diagrams on teaching these kids how to pray," he said. "He (the principal) assured me that it wouldn't happen again, and my daughter didn't have to do the assignment."
Penkoski told CBN News, however, that despite that conversation, his daughter still was assigned to write the shahada. He said he then learned that the teacher said the assignment was optional.
"My daughter didn't think it was optional," Penkoski said he told the principal.
The parent and pastor went on to say that he requested that the students also write the Ten Commandments, but the principal declined.
"He told me, 'No, we're not doing that. We made a mistake with the Islam stuff. We're not doing it again,'" Penkoski said.
Penkoski told CBN News he's contemplating taking legal action against the school district and has retained the help of the Thomas More Law Center.
"I want all faith doctrine, including Christianity – I'm a Christian – not to be taught in schools because as a parent, it's my job to teach my kids faith," he said. "Teachers are not qualified to teach theology."
"This is something that we're gonna fight because it's happening too much now," Penkoski said. "And something's got to be done."
Penkoski believes battles like the one he's fighting are taking place nationwide.
"The biggest thing to take away from this is parents need to really start paying attention to what their kids are being taught in school and be involved more," he said.
Officials with the Berkeley County Schools say the unit presents an historical approach to the five major world religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – with the goal of teaching students how they began and became pillars of civilization, according to The Journal, a newspaper based in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The newspaper reported school district officials say the unit was not designed to promote any specific theology.
Elaine Bobo, the director of communications for Berkeley County Schools, said the teacher always makes sure not to give preferential treatment to any of the five religions and tells the students "religion should be discussed with your family," according to The Journal.
"This has been a content standard," said Don Dellinger, deputy superintendent of Berkeley County Schools, the newspaper reported. "This isn't something new for this year."
School officials said Penkoski's complaint has affected students, according to The Journal.
"It's really taken its toll on some of our children up there," Bobo told the newspaper. "We've made sure to investigate any and all of the claims made."
CBN News attempted to contact Bobo for comment regarding this story. As of the time of publication, she had not responded to our inquiry.