Press Releases

DOJ Letter to School Boards on Religious Discrimination


The following is a letter send to the heads of state boards of Education by
Asst. Attorney General for Civil Rights Alex Costa:

As a new school year begins, I write to raise an issue with you that the
Civil Rights Division has taken steps to address. Specifically, we have
seen ugly and hateful incidents of violence and discrimination directed
against Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South-Asian students, motivated by
religious or national origin intolerance.

Last year, for example, in Louisiana a high school world history teacher
allegedly stripped a Muslim student’s head scarf, or hiajb, off her head,
reportedly remarking: “I didn’t know you had hair under there..I hope God
punishes you. No, I’m sorry, I hope Allah punishes you.” In California, a
high-school teacher allegedly grabbed a Sikh student’s beard, pulled it,
and accused him of being a member of the Taliban. And, in Oklahoma, the
local public school district twice suspended a sixth-grade Muslim student
for wearing a hijab. Teacher there apparently expressed concern that the
hijab would somehow “frighten” other children.

Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush
visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., to underscore a simple yet
fundamental point: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our
citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our
country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the
military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms, and dads. And they need to be
treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must
treat each other with respect.”

No less is true for members of the Arab, South Asian, and Sikh-American
communities. Again, in the President’ words: “those who feel like they can
intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the
best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be
ashamed of that kind of behavior.”

Since September 11, 2001, the Civil Rights Division has investigated nearly
600 incidents of violence directed against Arab, Muslim, South Asian or
Sikh-Americans. Over 140 of these incidents have resulted in local or
state criminal prosecutions; nearly 20 have resulted in federal criminal
prosecutions as well. We have, in addition, brought suit against a school
district for prohibiting a student from wearing her hijab.

As we approach the third anniversary of September 11, 2001, we must all
recognize that our differences provide an invaluable opportunity further
education, and must not lead, rather, to greater separation. I thank you
for your leadership and assistance in addressing this issue.


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