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Parents Sue San Diego School Over Protections Offered to Muslim Students

July 27th, 2017


Muslim students are in the political cross-hairs over an anti-bullying policy.

Muslim students are in the political cross-hairs over an anti-bullying policy.

Several parents have initiated a lawsuit against a San Diego school district on the basis that an anti-Islamophobia campaign by the school promotes and protects Islam over other religions. Legal counsel for the parents has claimed that this promotion is a “solution looking for a problem.” The campaign in question involves placing Islamic holidays on calendars of the school district staff, reviewing library materials about Muslim culture, providing additional resources to teachers, and partnering with the Council on American Islamic Relations. This recent campaign, however, has introduced some unique issues about schools acting to protect Muslim students.

The School’s Intended Plans Regarding Muslim Students

The plan in question was approved by the school board this April in a 4-0 vote. Staff at the school spoke in support of the campaign. Indeed, the school district has since clarified that the campaign was not created to endorse Islam but to protect Muslim students. The school district had announced plans to send an outline of the campaign to the district’s 132,000 students prior to the conclusion of the school year. Despite overwhelming support for this campaign, many critics have called the campaign an unwanted intrusion into the lives of Muslims. However, school officials have claimed the campaign was specifically created to address pervasive bullying of Muslim students at school.

The Lawsuit in Question

The lawsuit in question alleges that the school’s campaign violates the Constitution because the campaign is an endorsement of religion. Furthermore, the lawsuit asks the judge to halt the campaign while these claims are considered. The Council on American Islamic Relations has described this lawsuit as an attempt to force courts to promote Islamophobia.

The phrase “endorsement of religion” is part of federal courts’ analysis in deciding the separation between government and religion. In these situations, courts apply the Lemon test, which has three parts.

  • First, courts ask whether the government’s action has a religious purpose.
  • Second, courts determine whether the primary effect of the action is to endorse religion. The “endorsement” of religion by the government is considered impermissible. This second part of the Lemon test is most often used in cases where the government engages in activities that are designed to outwardly promote a religion.
  • Third, courts ask whether the government’s action is an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church

This San Diego school district is not the first school district to pass resolutions attempting to increase the safety of Muslim students. In 2016, California’s Oakland Unified School District and Kansas City Public Schools passed resolutions creating solidarity with Muslim students. While some of the laws concerning the separation of state and religious practice have existed for quite some time, there are several new cases that have tested the exact limit of these laws. The Universal Life Church’s blog aims to update readers on these issues.

(image courtesy of JJ Thompson)

One Comment

  1. I believe this case to be frivolous. It is a fact that since the election of President Trump, Islamophobia has been on the rise. I believe that Muslim students should be protected as should all students. It is not wrong to address a current issue or danger and take steps to protect those who may be in harm’s way. I applaud the San Diego School District for its concern for students.

    Rev. Stephen Brackens Brinkley
    San Diego, CA

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