Students say Holocaust assignment violated religious freedom

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PITTSFIELD, N.H. — An assignment intended to teach students about tolerance and the Holocaust angered some students at Pittsfield Middle High School, who claimed it violated their religious freedom.

English teacher Harry Mitchell last week asked students to make and wear yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis. The graded assignment, part of a lesson on The Diary of Anne Frank, was intended to teach empathy, he said.

But some students protested, instead wearing paper notes bearing the words, "We're not Jewish."

"Many people won't learn anything except that their religion (if they're not Jewish) isn't good enough and that being Jewish or expressing Jewish symbols is a better religion and the only way to get the grades we deserve," wrote Samantha Gage, 13, in a letter to the Concord Monitor.

That misses the point, Mitchell said.

"My intention with the star was to get them to have some empathy and the feeling of what it was like to have to identify yourself with a symbol," Mitchell said. "If you're not wearing it, you're not getting the full awareness of Anne and her family."

School principal Karen Erlandson said she supported the assignment, as well as the right of students not to participate.

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