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TEMECULA: High school students enmeshed in mosque debate

More than 100 Chaparral High School students received fliers Friday afternoon from a group opposed to plans for the construction of a mosque in Nicolas Valley, a rural community in the northeast corner of Temecula.

One of the fliers said the First Amendment is not an absolute right and that religion, speech and assembly are only constitutional as long as they are peaceful.

The other flier said students are being subjected to "serious brainwashing," and it urged students to "exercise your First Amendment rights to be well informed" and visit websites, including one that purported to show an Arab terrorist.

Many of the students read the fliers as they walked toward the intersection of Winchester and Nicolas roads on their way home or to waiting rides. Others tucked them in their backpacks or pockets for later reading. Some of the students were supportive of the group's effort. Others blasted the fliers as "insane bigotry" and "weird."

"They're doing the right thing," said Cassandra Pico, a senior at Temecula Valley High School who was on hand to interview the people handing out the fliers for a school assignment. "They're not against Muslims, they're against Sharia law."

Sharia is defined by some Muslims as the "path," a set of laws and rules that govern a Muslim's day-to-day actions and the interactions of Muslims and non-Muslims.

Critics of Islam claim Muslims consider Sharia more important than the laws of the country in which they reside, and they claim that Muslims are intent on imposing these laws on non-Muslims.

Local and regional Islamic leaders dismiss that sort of rhetoric as alarmist and say that there is no push to usurp the authority of the Constitution. Many say they came to the U.S. for the freedom of religion.

The students unimpressed with the fliers' message crumpled up the papers or tossed them aside.

"I don't agree with this, and I don't want to throw it on the ground," said one female student who declined a flier.

Another student, a young male, shouted, "Freedom of religion, bro!" when asked for his opinion of the scene.

Curtis Kennedy, a Chaparral senior, said people shouldn't be against a mosque at all, unless it is being proposed for somewhere such as ground zero in New York City.

The group handing out the fliers included Steve Klein, a San Jacinto man who has staged similar events in Southern California; Jim Horn, a Menifee-based author, and Ernie White, a Temecula resident who has spoken out against the planned mosque at public meetings.

As part of their research for their assignment, Pico and some of her Temecula Valley colleagues interviewed Horn, Klein and White.

White, holding a U.S. flag, told them to do their own homework about Sharia and Islam and not just take his word or the word of Islamic supporters, who, he said, could be just as persuasive as him.

"Don't take anyone's word for anything," White said.

Jennifer Sanchez, a Temecula Valley senior, said she was completely on the side of the people handing out the fliers and was especially concerned about women's rights.

"They (women) should be allowed to worship their god as well," she said.

The proposed site of the mosque, a project that is being pursued by the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, is a couple of miles east of the high school campus on Nicolas Road.

Klein said he was very impressed with the reception the group received from the students. At previous outreaches at high schools, he said, he was lucky to pass out 20 fliers.

Shortly after arriving at Chaparral, Klein had handed out more than 100.

During some of his previous First Amendment outreaches and in associated lawsuits, Klein has argued against the comments of a pastor and San Clemente's ban on anti-illegal-immigrant leaflets. Klein said he also has faced off against a group of Saudi Arabian Muslims in San Diego.

"It all comes down to the First Amendment," Klein said. "I don't care if you disagree with me. Just don't cut my head off."

Laurie Webster, the mother of a Chaparral student, said she was mortified when her daughter came home with the flier that had been handed out by Horn.

"They say these terrible things and they don't back them up. It's fear-mongering targeted to children," she said.

Call staff writer Aaron Claverie at 951-676-4315, ext. 2624.

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