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State Police alerted after Nazareth College students of Muslim faith attend Penfield church


The last time students in the Sociology of Religion class at Nazareth College completed a routine assignment requiring them to visit religious services that are not of their own faith, it all went off without a hitch.

But, according to the school’s president Daan Braveman, two Muslim students were targeted at a Penfield church last Sunday because of their religious beliefs.

The students were attending Browncroft Community Church when someone reported them to the Department of Homeland Security and New York State Police as “suspicious.” 

Braveman said a third student, who is not Muslim, also visited that church earlier in the day, but was not the subject of any such report.

“The issue that we need to be focused on is that we live in a time when if you’re Muslim that’s a suspicious activity,” Braveman said, “Whereas this other person who went there, I don’t even know what his or her faith is, but they weren’t singled out.”

As part of the course, students are asked to attend the religious service of their choice twice, and reflect on the similarities and differences as compared to their own faith.

It was the second time the two Muslim students had visited the church during Sunday service.

“The students tell me that members of the church hugged them, so they were more shocked than anybody,” Braveman said.

A State Police representative contacted the College to confirm that the two individuals are in fact students.

“My hope is that this will become a teachable opportunity; that we can get together with people, not only at church, but also in our community, to use this as a vehicle to talk about interfaith understanding,” Braveman said.

After their student status was confirmed, the police dropped the matter.

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News in 2015 as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York and also does general assignment reporting. Sasha-Ann is the host of Arts InFocus, WXXI-TV's weekly arts and culture program. She is also a fill-in host and regular contributor to Need To Know.