(SAN DIEGO, CA – 9/26/2018) – The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) today welcomed a decision by a federal judge allowing the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to continue its anti-Islamophobia initiative to prevent school bullying.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant denied a motion for preliminary injunction against the district filed by six SDUSD parents and two local organizations, Citizens for Quality Education San Diego and San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation.
The Court rejected plaintiffs’ claims that the initiative – and a partnership with the San Diego office of CAIR (CAIR-SD) – gave Muslims students and Islam preferential treatment over other religions, in violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution.
“It is simply not accurate for plaintiffs to suggest that the district excludes organizations with focuses on other religions or religious groups from the district,” Judge Bashant wrote in her 54-page order.
CAIR-CA, a non-party to the lawsuit, filed an amicus brief with the Court supporting opposition to the motion for preliminary injunction. The amicus brief was mentioned several times in the Court’s order. Judge Bashant stated that “CAIR persuasively asserts, any benefit from these measures ‘accrues to all the students at the School District by learning about the world,’ including ‘about the culture of a growing’ segment of the Nation.”
“We appreciate that the Court recognized this for what it was—an attempt to further marginalize Muslims by rejecting the very idea that they can be victimized by Islamophobia,” said Omar Hassaine, chair of the CAIR-CA board. “As a resident of San Diego and a parent, I am personally gratified to see the measures implemented to prevent Muslim students from being bullied will continue.”
The issue of Muslim students being bullied in the district – serving more than 130,000 students in 117 traditional elementary schools, nine K-8 schools, 24 traditional middle schools, 22 high schools, 49 charter schools, 13 atypical/alternative schools and five additional program sites – was brought before the district board in July 2016.
“This decision confirms the obvious: that it is both lawful and appropriate for school districts to address the emergence of anti-Muslim bullying as a phenomenon affecting Muslim students in California and across the country.” said Gadeir Abbas, CAIR National senior litigation attorney and co-counsel for amici curiea CAIR-CA.
“We appreciate the court’s important ruling that it is within the rights of a school district to educate students and protect them from the dangers of intolerance and bullying,” said Attorney Moez Kaba of Hueston Hennigan, co-counsel for amici curiea CAIR-CA.
In April 2017, the district unveiled several steps for the new initiative, including creating safe spaces for Muslim students; sending staff and parents letters about Islamophobia; listing Islamic holidays on calendars; and including Islamic history and culture in social studies lessons. CAIR-SD worked with district staff to develop the program, recommending literature about the harmful effects of bullying.
SEE: As Muslim students fight for protection, some parents battle to keep Islam out of schools https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-07-30/muslim-students-fight-protection-some-parents-battle-keep-islam-out-schools
One month later, the opponents to the initiative filed a lawsuit to stop the program, leading the district to work with the Anti-Defamation League — a group who says its values are rooted in Jewish beliefs, instead of CAIR-SD.
While the decision does not close the case, the Court opined that the school district would likely prevail in the lawsuit.
CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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