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Christians expelled, Morocco and US spar over religious freedom

A congressional committee is holding a hearing today on religious freedom in Morocco, which expelled nearly 100 Christian foreigners in March. Morocco is investigating an American school that parents have accused of spreading Christianity.

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According to Ms. MacArthur, teachers expose students to historical and philosophical aspects of the major monotheistic religions to encourage tolerance and groom children to succeed in a multicultural world.

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“We try to prepare children for the global village. Personal faith belongs in the home,” she said at a press conference held in April to staunch the flow of rumors. “We are not an army of evangelists,” she added.

'Methodical conversion'?

But Ramid’s client, Kadr Ighirri, says GWA’s “methodical conversion” of his 12-year-old son left him troubled by violent visions and alienated from his family and culture.

Unsatisfied with the expulsions of the school’s leaders, Mr. Ighirri, who speaks fluent English and manages a multinational company, hopes Moroccan authorities’ investigation will shed light on what was happening in the school.

“It must be established who was responsible; authorities must determine if the school is innocent,” Ighirri says. “There were conditions present in this school that resulted in what happened to my son – these conditions must not be allowed to persist,” he said.

He charges that GWA faculty told his son he was a “chosen one” and encouraged him to pray to Jesus, all the while warning him not to speak to his family about the matter. When the boy shared with faculty his fearful visions of Jesus and Satan fighting over him in the schoolyard, Ighirri says they told him, "Jesus decided to come to you himself because you were born to a Muslim family."

The complaint names 12 teachers and administrators thought to have encouraged the boy’s conversion.

One former teacher, who was unwilling to be named, says that “very Christian” teachers were sending mixed messages to Muslim students out of the classroom, and that some students asked her if they would go to heaven if they did not believe in a Christian God.

But MacArthur denied all that at the recent press conference. “We know of no staff member who has tried to shake the faith of a Muslim child in this school,” she said. School officials accuse the complainants of defamation and of seeking conservative political gain by painting foreigners in a negative light.

Ighirri denies any political motive. “I thought when we brought the suit that this was an individual case,” he says. He says he changed his mind after seeing the website, which is run by parents and former faculty and airs accounts of proselytizing at GWA, alongside information about faculty and board members’ affiliations with churches and Christian charities.

Many parents still loyal

Many parents are pledging their loyalty to the school.

Meredith Belghiti, an American mother of three who converted to Islam after marrying a Moroccan man, believes children should be taught to respect all religions. “In America, we have freedom of religion – the right to practice what you believe – and that’s what GW teaches. If we have a board and teachers formed of good, practicing Christians, I am very excited about that. Because these are people with good moral values,” she says.

Alain Jaques-Amrhar, a Swiss parent who believes the proselytism charges are unfounded, said the controversy seemed to be a backward step for Morocco.

“Morocco’s enormous development was one of the reasons we moved here from Switzerland. This seems like a regression. If this school was closed [by authorities], we would go back to Switzerland,” he says.

“The school is a little lab of the world. We didn’t have coexistence like this before,” said a Moroccan parent who supports the school and asked to remain anonymous. “For us, this is [like] a political game, in which the school and our children are hostages.”