Folks: I rarely post outside of the trading forums, but this seemed like an interesting article that would generate discussion. Can you be charged with a hate crime for naming a teddy bear Muhammad? Read this: ........................................... Briton Charged in Muhammad Bear Case Published: 11/28/07, 5:26 PM EDT By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) - Sudan charged a British teacher Wednesday with inciting religious hatred - a crime punishable by 40 lashes - because she allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of a class project. The country's top Muslim clerics pressed the government to ensure that the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, is punished, comparing her action to author Salman Rushdie's "blasphemies" against the Prophet Muhammad. The charges against Gibbons angered the British government, which urgently summoned the Sudanese ambassador to discuss the case. British and American Muslim groups also criticized the decision. Gibbons, 54, was arrested at her home in Khartoum on Sunday after some parents of her students accused her of naming the bear after Islam's prophet. Muhammad is a common name among Muslim men, but the parents saw applying it to a toy animal as an insult. Officials in Sudan's Foreign Ministry have tried to play down the case, calling it an isolated incident and predicting Tuesday that Gibbons could be released without charge. But hard-liners have considerable weight in the government of President Omar al-Bashir, which came to power in a 1989 military coup that touted itself as creating an Islamic state. The north of the country bases its legal code on Islamic Sharia law, and al-Bashir often seeks to burnish his religious credentials. Last year, he vowed to lead a jihad, or holy war, against U.N. peacekeepers if they deployed in the Darfur region of western Sudan. He relented this year to allow a U.N.-African Union force there - but this month said he would bar Scandinavian peacekeepers from participating because newspapers in their countries ran caricatures of Prophet Muhammad last year. Streets were calm Wednesday in Khartoum, but a pickup truck drove through the capital with loudspeakers blaring calls for Muslims to protest Friday after prayers and not to let their religion be insulted. Sudanese Prosecutor-General Salah Eddin Abu Zaid said Gibbons was charged with inciting religious hatred and her case would be referred to courts Thursday. If convicted, she faces up to 40 lashes, six months in jail and a fine, said Abdul-Daem Zumrawi, an undersecretary at the Justice Ministry. The verdict and any sentence are up to "the discretionary power of the judge," he said, according to the state Sudanese News Agency. The case set up an escalating diplomatic dispute with Britain, Sudan's former colonial ruler. "We are surprised and disappointed by this development," said Michael Ellam, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He said Foreign Secretary David Miliband would urgently summon Sudanese Ambassador Omer Mohammed Ahmed Siddig and ask "for the rationale behind the charges and a sense of what the next steps might be." "We will consider our response in the light of that," Ellam said. Officials at Unity High School, where Gibbons taught, say she was teaching her 7-year-old students about animals and in September asked one girl to bring in her teddy bear. Gibbons then asked the students to pick names for the bear and they voted to name it Muhammad. Each student then took the bear for a weekend to write a diary entry about what they did with the bear, and the entries were compiled into a book with the bear's photo on the cover and the title "My Name is Muhammad," in what teachers in Britain said was a common exercise. Police in downtown Khartoum stood guard outside the school, which closed after Gibbons' arrest. It was founded in 1902 to provide British-style education to about 750 students from elementary through high school. Most students are Muslims from affluent Sudanese families. In Britain, the Gibbons family declined to speak with The Associated Press, saying the British government had advised them not to comment. In Khartoum, the British Embassy said that diplomats were allowed to visit Gibbons on Wednesday and that she was being treated well. Gibbons' lawyer told the independent Sudanese newspaper Al-Akbar Al-Ayam that she changed prisons to guarantee her safety. He did not elaborate. Sudan's top clerics, known as the Assembly of the Ulemas, said in a statement Wednesday that parents at the school had handed them a book that the teacher was assembling about the bear. "She, in a very abusive manner, used the name of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah shame her," the statement said. The assembly, a semiofficial body generally viewed as moderate and close to the government, called on authorities to apply the full measure of the law against Gibbons. It called the incident part of a broader Western "plot" against Muslims. "What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam," the ulemas' statement said. The clerics said the "plot" was exemplified "in the writings of renegade Salman Rushdie and the blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad." The British novelist was accused of blasphemy by many Muslims for his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses," which had a character seen as a reference to the prophet. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie's death. Muslim leaders in Britain and the U.S. strongly rejected the charges against Gibbons. "This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. He said there was "clearly no intention" by the teacher to "deliberately insult the Islamic faith." The American Islamic Congress also criticized the decision. "The Sudanese government's ridiculous case trivializes the feelings of Muslims around the world," said Nasser Weddady, the organization's civil rights outreach director. ___ Associated Press writer Mohamed Osman contributed to this report.