Six parents filed a lawsuit against a California school district over its anti-Islamaphobia campaign, stating that the policy violated the U.S. Constitution because it favored one religion.
The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit against San Diego Unified School District on behalf of the parents last Tuesday, said the policy should protect all students, regardless of their religion, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“It’s our position that the anti-bullying policies should protect all students regardless of ethnicity and affiliation, and they shouldn’t be singling out any religious group for special treatment, as they seem to be doing here,” Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, told the newspaper.
LiMandri also said the campaign was a “politically correct solution to a problem that does not exist.”
Board members in San Diego Unified School District unanimously voted on April 4 to pass the campaign aimed at protecting Muslim students from bullying. Only one board member was absent at the time and news of the campaign gained little attention.
Criticism began pouring in when the anti-Islamophobia campaign gained traction on news sites and social media. Some called it an unwanted intrusion of Muslim beliefs and culture, while others said it prioritized one religion over another.
The San Diego Union School District told Fox News it could not comment on pending litigation, but provided resources that defended its decision to form the program. One of the reasons stemmed from an April survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) which found that Muslim children were more susceptible to bullying in school compared to students practicing other religions, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The survey also found that a teacher or student official was involved in 25 percent of reported anti-Muslim incidents.
Along with protecting Muslim students from bullying by creating “safe spaces,” the district would provide more lessons about Islam to help students better understand the religion, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune . A district staff added that students already learned about Islam, but more resources would be beneficial.
The policy would ensure Muslim holidays would be recognized on staff calendars, but students would not be getting those days off. The district also planned to consider high school clubs that promote American Muslim culture and engage in partnerships with the Council on American Islamic Relations.
A letter outlining the plans was expected to be sent to staff and parents of the district’s 132,000 students before the school year ends.
District officials have vigorously defended the plan in recent weeks, saying bullying of Muslim students was pervasive and vastly underreported. In a detailed message posted on its website, the district explained that Muslim students weren’t obtaining “special treatment.”
“The District takes seriously the bullying of any student, and we have programs and procedures already in place to address bullying,” according to the website.
The district said it would not be endorsing Islam and that the policy did not violate the separation between church and state because they were not promoting or teaching a religion. The initiative was not a “separate effort” from its current anti-bullying policy for all students, the site stated.
The lawsuit, however, asks a judge to immediately halt the policy while the merits of the claim are considered.
LiMandri said he was open to settlement talks and that an attorney for the school district appeared open to revisiting its partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“No one is saying we have to have expensive, protracted litigation,” LiMandri said at a news conference Thursday. “There can be a more commonsense approach to this where all students can be protected and no students are being favored to the disadvantage of anyone else.”
Hanif Mohebi, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Diego chapter, said the lawsuit “seems to be an attempt to have the courts enforce growing Islamophobia in our state and nation, and to strip away much-needed protection for Muslim students who face increasing bullying.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.