2001 Civil Rights Report: Accommodating Diversity

Executive Summary

This year’s report records a 15 percent increase in the number of complaints over the previous year. The first edition of this publication, the 1996 report, underscored the fact that American Muslims encounter intolerance in their daily life. The 1997 report documented a dramatic rise in the number of complaints received by CAIR’s national and regional offices. The 1998 edition noted another rise in the number of complaints and showed that anti- Muslim incidents followed patterns of denial of basic human and constitutional rights. The 1999 report was marked by a decline in hijab related incidents. Last year’s report highlighted a substantial increase in reported incidents, perhaps reflecting a growing tendency on the part of Muslims to report their experiences. As this report demonstrates, this tendency is becoming increasingly pronounced.

In the majority of cases received by CAIR last year, Muslims complained about the lack of accommodation in the workplace and schools. Hijab related complaints were among the most numerous. While the numbers of the various types of incidents have fluctuated in the past few years, the patterns of experiences remain unchanged. In the workplace Muslims were often pressured to compromise their faith. The treatment of the religious requirements of Muslim students within the public schools varied from one district to another. However, it generally lacked attention to the students’ needs.

While there has been increased awareness about the issues involved, employers and schools continue to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. Even in places where there were established procedures to accommodate religious practices, the enforcement of such regulations was usually subjected to personal preferences of employers or to their economic and administrative needs. With personnel changes, Muslim women, children, and assembly line workers found themselves struggling to reintroduce the issues of religious accommodation. In professional occupations, Muslim employees often complained about job promotion. Muslim college students often complained that their freedom of speech had been violated and that Islam was misrepresented in textbooks chosen by schools and instructors.

Other notable developments affecting Muslim civil liberties in the past five years included:

  • the passage of laws regulating halal food labeling by the states of New Jersey, Illinois and Minnesota. Recognizing halal food as a consumer product, the laws generally placed penalty on businesses misusing the label.
  • the continuing American Muslim struggle to repeal secret evidence, which is widely criticized as a non-constitutional clause of the 1996 anti-terrorism law. The provision was used almost exclusively against Muslims.