Is San Diego bending over a little too far backwards to accommodate Islam? That’s what a new lawsuit argues.
Last month, the San Diego school district approved a campaign to address anti-Muslim bullying and discrimination. In collaboration with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the district will work to recognize Muslim holidays, create “safe spaces” for Muslim students, and teach students about Islam.
Now, six parents have sued the school district this week, saying the campaign amounts to an unconstitutional government endorsement of a religion.
The lawsuit, filed with help from the nonprofit Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, claims that “under the guise of this anti-bullying program,” the district and CAIR have “set up a subtle, discriminatory scheme that establishes Muslim students as the privileged religious group within the school community.”
“Consequently,” the complaint says, “students of other faiths are left on the outside looking in, vulnerable to religiously motivated bullying, while Muslim students enjoy an exclusive right to the School District’s benevolent protection.”
That’s unconstitutional, the lawsuit claims, citing Supreme Court decisions holding that the government must be neutral toward religion.
The parents say they’re concerned that their children will see the anti-Islamophobia campaign as an “endorsement of Islam and a rejection of other religions.”
They’re also worried their students will learn from “biased and inaccurate educational lessons” that “will minimize or omit negative facts about Islam that, when included, would be essential to create an accurate understanding of history.”
The school district’s partnership with CAIR could result in the group having “extraordinary discretion, power and influence to convey religious messages, including proselytization, to students in an involuntary and coercive environment,” the lawsuit says.
A spokesperson for the San Diego school district said she was unable to comment because of the ongoing litigation.
In an online statement discussing the program, the school district said the initiative was a response to reports of bullying and concerns about the safety of Muslim students.
“Muslim students are not getting special treatment. … The District does not implement, teach, or promote adherence to religious law of any kind,” the district said.
And in a recent op-ed, the president and vice president of the San Diego Unified School District’s board of trustees denied that the program was unconstitutional.
“Teaching students about different cultures and religions is not a violation of the First Amendment,” they said. “Teaching tolerance is the best way to protect the First Amendment, and tolerance is at the heart of San Diego Unified’s work to protect all students.”
The San Diego school district, which serves 132,000 students, received reports of several incidents of religious bullying last year. But the plaintiffs say a report by CAIR’s California chapter found that must Muslim students felt comfortable, respected and safe in public schools.
By deadline, the San Diego CAIR chapter had responded to Heat Street’s request for comment.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.