Muslim students visit church for classroom assignment -- panicked security guard alerts feds
Young bearded Muslim man (Shutterstock)

Two Muslim students visited an upstate New York church as part of a classroom assignment on religious diversity -- but instead prompted a call from a security guard to state and federal authorities.

The pair chose evangelical Browncroft Community Church near Rochester after their sociology professor at Nazareth College asked students to visit a house of worship from a religion other than their own, reported The Daily Beast.

The men visited the church twice, but a security team member apparently called state police and the Department of Homeland Security after the students went to coffee hour on their second visit and spoke with church members.

A third student, who is not Muslim, visited the church earlier that same day but did not raise any alarm.

State police visited Nazareth to determine whether the men were students and dropped the investigation after school officials confirmed their status.

Browncroft's senior pastor, Rob Cattalini, said his church welcomes anyone, but he told the website that the Muslim men raised the security guard's suspicions because they appeared to be older than typical college students.

"We're very sorry for any misunderstanding," Cattalini said. "They took it upon themselves to visit the campus to verify that these students, who were older. I think one was in his early 40s and one in his late 20s, just that they were students."

Nazareth dropped its Roman Catholic affiliation in the 1970s and is no longer a religious school, although every undergraduate is required to take a religious studies course to engage in other faith traditions.

“This is what we say about Nazareth: Our president is Jewish. The executive director of our interfaith center is Muslim, and I, the director of our religious studies program, am a Roman Catholic nun," said Susan Nowak, the department head. “So if you want to know if Nazareth is committed to pluralism, there it is."

The Muslim students, whose names were not released, and college officials were upset by the reaction, because they had felt both visits had gone well until law enforcement was called.

But instead of calling for a protest, the men and the school's Muslim Student Association hope to meet with church members again to talk about what happened.

"This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference," said Daan Braveman, the college president.