A handful of students were sent home from Florida schools this week after showing up in shirts proclaiming that "Islam is of the Devil," part of a fiery church campaign to "expose" Islam as a religion of violence.
Three high schoolers were forced to leave Tuesday for wearing the shirts made by the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., where school officials say violated the district's dress codes.
A middle schooler was also asked to change clothes because of the shirt, which got a 10-year-old fifth grader sent packing on Monday, when the incidents began.
"Students have a right of free speech, and we have allowed students to come to school wearing clothes with messages," school district staff attorney told the Gainesville Sun.
"But this message is a divisive message that is likely to offend students. Principals, I feel reasonably, have deemed that a violation of the dress code."
Wittmer told the paper that the school district is obligated to protect all students from religious discrimination regardless of their faith, and had to ensure equal treatment for all students.
"The next kid might show up with a shirt saying 'Christianity is of the Devil,'" Wittmer said.
The Dove center has come under fire already for posting a sign with the same message, which it says will help "expose" Islam as "a violent and oppressive religion" that is trying to deceive and destroy society.
"It is time that all Christians unite, stop being passive and selfish and stand up and fight for the truth," says a posting on the church's Web site.
Muslim advocates have pressed the church to remove the sign and say the anti-Islam message should not be accepted when "schools are supposed to be teaching tolerance for others," the Gainesville Sun reported.
"It's pretty offensive, isn't it?" said Saeed R. Khan, president of the Muslim Association of North Central Florida.
"Particularly in a school setting where you are trying to create an atmosphere where people are supposed to respect each other and live with each other, where we have people of every ethnicity and every religion," he told the paper.