"The same God? That's for a school to say?"
That comment atop a Facebook post by my friend Jim Davis, a former GetReligion contributor, caught my attention.
Davis linked to a story from The Courier-News, an Elgin, Ill., hometown newspaper that is a part of the Chicago Tribune family. The story concerned a protest by some Christians over an assignment at a local public school.
Dozens of people spoke out Monday against a homework assignment made at an Elgin-area U46 school in which it was asserted Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths all believe in the same God.
One month after the assignment was criticized by U46 school board member Jeanette Ward, people who identified themselves as part of the Christian community attended the school board meeting Monday to add their opposition.
Several people attacked the assignment, quoting Bible and Quran verses to support their argument that Christians do not follow the same God as Muslims. Some of those who spoke live outside the U46 boundaries, including one person who came from Florida.
"To say that Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same is simply absurd," said Art Ellingsen, a church pastor from Arlington Heights.
Last month, the same school board heard from religious leaders with a different perspective, as the newspaper noted then:
Elgin-area faith leaders criticized School District U46 board member Jeanette Ward's comments over a homework assignment about religion.
Last week, Ward shared via social media an assignment her sixth-grade daughter brought home. The assignment featured an article in which the author argues that despite differences among Christianity, Judaism and Islam, they all worship the same God. Students were assigned to answer questions on the text.
Another former GetReligion contributor, Mark Kellner, left this comment on Davis' post:
Now, if only there was a blog somewhere that could discuss the journalism issues in this story (and the earlier piece). You know, somewhere that people such as Terry Mattingly, Julia C. Duin, or even Bobby Ross Jr. could serve up an opinion. Anybody know of anything like that? ;-)
OK, OK, OK. We can take a hint ...
From reading both stories, this much is obvious: The Courier-News isn't the Chicago Tribune. It's a local paper undoubtedly written and produced by young journalists still gaining experience. I remember when I was a college journalism major in the late 1980s covering suburban school board and city council meetings for a zoned edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I probably would have reported the story in question in much the same way as The Courier-News — that is, relying on comments at the meeting from the public and the elected officials.
But here's my suggestion: An experienced religion writer in the Chicagoland area ought to jump on this story and tell it fairly and fully.
Some things I'd like to know: What do school officials say about the homework assignment? Did it meet legal and constitutional guidelines? What do religious liberty experts say about the assignment? Charles Haynes, who I believe still runs a religious freedom in public schools program through the Newseum Institute, is always a terrific interview.
Also: Who exactly are the local religious leaders speaking up for and against the assignment? What are their specific religious affiliations and denominations? Surely there is more precise information available than simply referring to "religious leaders" and "Christians."
And: What do theologians say about the question of whether Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God? Are they surprised or not at the uproar caused by the assignment? Why or why not? Moreover, what does the teacher who made the assignment say?
It just seems to me that there could be a timely, informative and even educational story in this controversy. And I know there are some top-notch Godbeat pros in the area, including the Chicago Tribune's Manya Brachear Pashman and Religion News Service's Emily McFarlan Miller. Anybody want to call dibs? :-)
An aside: I have been to Elgin, Ill. I did a story there on a growing Spanish-speaking congregation. I got lost on the way to the church and pulled in front of an Elgin police car. Yes, flashing lights soon followed. I'd like to thank the kind officer who showed grace to the bad driver from out of state and let me go with a warning.