Church sign wishing a blessed Ramadan to Muslims stirs controversy in town

SPRING GROVE, Pa. (WHTM) – Controversy brewed Monday night over a message posted by a Pennsylvania church and the response to that message from a school board member.

At the board’s meeting Monday, several people asked the member, Matt Jansen, to resign.

“And I just want to offer you my absolute, 100 percent deepest apologies,” Jansen told the crowd at the outset of the meeting.

Recent controversy stems from his reaction to a church sign at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown.

The message, which has since changed, reads, “Wishing a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors.”

“I came by,” Jansen said, “and I was disturbed by the sign, quite frankly, and I just reacted to it.”

He tweeted his disapproval, posting the church’s phone number, and left a voicemail with pastor Chris Rodkey.

In the 43-second message, which Rodkey posted online, Jansen said he was “shocked” at the sign, calling it “unbelievable” and “despicable” coming from a Christian church.

He asked the pastor, “Are you sick? Is there something wrong with you?”

“And to call their religion Godless,” said Ann Seitz-Brown, referring to more of Jansen’s words, “that really struck me.”

Seitz-Brown and Becky Stauffer brought their own signs to Monday’s school board meeting wishing the Muslim community a blessed Ramadan. They were two of a handful of people to speak.

“Above all we teach that we must treat each other with kindness and not bully each other out of fear and prejudice,” Stauffer said. “A greater bully stands among us, leading our district and influencing educational policy.”

Several people, including Stauffer, called on Jansen to resign.

“And if not,” Bob Conrad told members, “the school district would take a very very firm stand.”

A petition on Change.org that had gathered more than 500 signatures by Monday night asks the school board to remove Jansen. But the body’s legal counsel told the room they do not have authority under Pennsylvania law to remove — or even discipline — the member given the circumstances.

Joss King did not address the board, but brought a sign of his own reading, “The First Amendment protects all speech.”

“And that means speech that some of us may not like,” he said. King supports Jansen and says he never should have had to apologize.

“The pastor had a right to put whatever he wanted on his board. Absolutely,” he said. “And anybody that has a problem with that has a right to express their discontent with it.”

After the meeting, Jansen reiterated his apology, saying he made a mistake and that he’s disappointed in himself for not considering his role with the board before deciding to “spout off.”

“Maybe a moment of humility for me, maybe a moment of forgiveness from some of the people within the district,” he said. “And maybe we can move forward all together, learning something here.”

But as for resigning, he said, “At this point, I’m not. So, I mean, if you would want an immediate answer, I’m not resigning.”

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