School board member, delegate sorry for Islam sign complaint

AP News
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Posted: Jun 20, 2016 4:38 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A central Pennsylvania school board member and Republican National Convention delegate has apologized for criticizing a church that posted a message on its sign "Wishing a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors."

In a message posted Monday on his Twitter feed, Spring Grove Area School District board member Matthew Jansen wrote: "Jesus died for hardline Islamist just like he did me. I do apologize for venting to the church. I was out of line."

The Rev. Christopher Rodkey said he got a call June 11 about the sign outside St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown, about 80 miles west of Philadelphia. He said the unidentified man called the sign "despicable" and referred to Islam as a "godless" and "pagan" religion. Rodkey said he identified the number as that of Jansen, who is also an elected Republican delegate who supports the party's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.

Jansen told The Associated Press on Monday that he is "an outspoken guy" and reacted emotionally "for about 10 minutes" after seeing "a blessing to Islam" on a church in his neighborhood, even forgetting to leave his name when he called the church but calling back later to identify himself.

"I was very upset and I think in retrospect I should have handled it differently," he said. "I definitely apologize for venting like that. It's not the appropriate way of handling things."

A photo of the sign was also posted on Jansen's Twitter page along with the church's phone number. Rodkey said he received a number of hang-up calls, prompting the church to disconnect the phone and answering machine, and was still getting calls five days later.

Jansen said he has had to change his phone number and open a police report because of the response to his comments.

Jansen declined to say whether he regrets his remarks about Islam. He called the area around the church "the epicenter" of his life and said his response to the sign "was a protective reaction in many ways."

"If a dialogue begins on this, I think that would be a good thing," he said.

Rodkey said he posted the message on the sign because he believes that Muslims are used as scapegoats by the religious right and his church "is interested in religious tolerance." He told PennLive.com on Monday that he hadn't heard about Jansen's apology tweet, but he'll "accept an apology."