Christians Expelled, Morocco and US Spar over Religious Freedom

By Armstrong, Hannah | The Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

Christians Expelled, Morocco and US Spar over Religious Freedom


Armstrong, Hannah, The Christian Science Monitor


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.

Months after Morocco deported nearly 100 Christian foreigners, the US Congress and Morocco are sparring over religious freedom, with both countries opening investigations that could strain relations between the two allies.

On Thursday, a congressional human rights commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the status of religious freedom in Morocco, which receives nearly $700 million of American aid through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Rep. Tom Wolf (R) of Virginia, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, urged suspension of MCC funding "to a nation which blatantly disregards the rights of American citizens residing in Morocco and forcibly expels American citizens without due process of law" in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That's unlikely to happen, since the US closely cooperates in military and antiterrorist programs with Morocco and has a long- standing free trade agreement with the country.

But some Moroccans, too, are upset with the US.

Moroccans are asking if American missionaries were secretly - and illegally - spreading Christianity among the poor. Some charge that an American school advertised as secular was inculcating Christian beliefs in students. That has angered many Muslims here and fueled a debate on how religion should be taught in a globalizing world. The case is currently under investigation by Moroccan police.

School officials barred from returning to Morocco

Parents and former teachers charge that the George Washington Academy (GWA), a stately private school just outside of Casablanca, lured students with a facade of multicultural academic excellence, only to spread Christianity.

The school first came under scrutiny in late March, when border officials barred GWA founder and director Jack Rusenko and two senior school administrators from reentering Morocco, in part of an unusual sweep of foreigners said to be missionaries. Moroccan law explicitly forbids proselytizing.

Although GWA denies wrongdoing, it is gaining notoriety, spurred by a website that spreads word of new tales of complaints by teachers and parents. Mustapha Ramid, a prominent Islamist politician whose complaint spurred the police investigation, is calling on judicial authorities to investigate the matter as well.

"It is out of the question to misuse a school to convert children - that's true for any school in this country," says Mr. Ramid, a member of parliament, in an interview in his Casablanca office. "Foreigners must respect our laws," Ramid adds.

Ramid's words resonate with many here, who feel deeply offended at the thought that foreign evangelists would spread their religion in secret, particularly among children.

"While Moroccans are proud of being Muslim, this does not prevent us from being tolerant and respectful of others. But others must not consider this openness as a weakness," wrote one father on the website.

Meanwhile, Deborah MacArthur, who stepped in for Jack Rusenko as head of the school's board of directors, faults "hysterical propaganda" for the controversy. MacArthur says the school, whose student population is 60 percent Moroccan, 20 percent American, and 20 percent from other countries, has served as a "crown jewel" of Moroccan-American friendship since its founding 13 years ago.

Board members still hope to open new branches of GWA in the northern skiing village of Ifrane and the ocher city of Marrakech to the south.

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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