Depiction of religion in Norwin history textbook is criticized

June 7, 2012 7:22 am





By Annie Siebert / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A North Huntingdon pastor says a seventh-grade history textbook used by the Norwin School District “whitewashes” the history of Islam while demonizing Christian history, but the district stands by the book and doesn’t plan to change its curriculum.

The Rev. Bruce Leonatti of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church said he doesn’t want the book to be banned. He just wants schools to teach the “nice side” of religion.

“Don’t talk about the growth of Islam or Christianity,” he said last week. “Just teach the basics.”

Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said arguments like Pastor Leonatti’s come from anti-Islamic groups that are convinced that the world’s problems, especially terrorism, are rooted in Islam.

Pastor Leonatti, a former teacher, provided a reporter with printed pages from, a website that calls the prophet Muhammad a “ruthless terrorist, a mass-murderer, a thief, slave trader, rapist and pedophile.”

“There’s nothing textbooks can do that’s going to satisfy those people,” Mr. Haynes said. “It isn’t true that Islam is the problem.

“He’s so wrong it’s hard to even know where to start,” he added.

Norwin superintendent William Kerr said Pearson’s “myWorld History: Early Ages” doesn’t go into great depth about any historical subject and called the survey textbook, which is used in 16 other Pennsylvania school districts, “age-appropriate.”

“In this case, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism or Islam, we present that information in a very non-biased and nondevotional manner,” Mr. Kerr said. “That’s what public schools do.”

Mr. Kerr and Tracy McNelly, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the textbook is just one of many tools teachers use in the seventh-grade world history course that broadly covers human history.

“There’s not a lot of depth in this course that covers thousands and thousands of years of history,” Ms. McNelly said.

In response to Pastor Leonatti’s concerns, the district compiled its own report on the seventh-grade history curriculum and asked for a report on the text from the Rev. Clifton J. Suehr, president of the Norwin Ministerium and pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Irwin.