- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A group of San Diego parents are suing to try to stop the school district’s campaign against bullying of Muslims, saying that officials’ plans go beyond anti-bullying and end up actually promoting Islam.

That, the parents said in a complaint filed last week, amounts to an unconstitutional promotion of a religion.

The school’s plans include sending a letter to staff and parents warning about the dangers of Islamophobia, seeking to recognize Muslim holidays in the school calendar, providing resources for students during Ramadan and engaging in what the parents called “formal partnerships” with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The parents said the San Diego Unified School District has joined with CAIR to “set up a subtle, discriminatory scheme that establishes Muslim students as the privileged religious group within the school community.”

The school district didn’t want to comment on pending litigation, but a spokesperson directed The Washington Times to an op-ed in The San Diego Union-Tribune addressing the policy decisions.

“In San Diego, the local Muslim community brought its concerns to the school board. Their testimony included parents and students who had been reduced to tears by the taunts of their peers,” reads the op-ed by Richard Barrera, president of the district’s board of trustees, and Kevin Beiser, the board’s vice president. “These meetings — still available for viewing online — are truly heart-wrenching to watch.”

It’s because of these reports that the school board decided to take action.

“Our goal was not to endorse a religion, but rather to assure a vulnerable segment of our community that our schools are safe places for them, just as they are safe spaces for all children,” they wrote.

But the lawyer for the parents said singling Muslims out for special protections against alleged bullying is just a false pretext.

“There’s really no evidence that Muslims are disproportionally bullied,” said Charles LiMandri, the lawyer. “The bullying thing, we see it as a pretext.”

Mr. LiMandri said his clients believe the curriculum is “going to be biased in favor of Islam and give a distorted picture of Islam.” He also said the pubic school district should not be working with CAIR because of the organization’s purported ties to terrorist groups.

“These are serious issues when you have an organization that is infiltrating the public school system,” he said.

Lawrence A. Alexander, a law professor at the University of San Diego, said the lawsuit lends him to think it’s “a silly PC policy, as the plaintiffs allege, but that it is unlikely to be found to be an unconstitutional religious preference.”

CAIR, based in Washington, D.C., promotes Islam and a positive image of Muslims. But the group also was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department prosecution of a terrorism-fundraising scheme a decade ago.

CAIR didn’t respond to a request for comment, but it dismisses “conspiracy theories” about the organization on its website.

“Because of CAIR’s high profile and very public record of principled advocacy of civil liberties, interfaith relations and justice for all people, a small but vocal group of anti-Muslim bigots has made CAIR the focus of their misinformation campaign,” the group says. “Internet hate sites then recycle these attacks using a template-like style without verifying the authenticity of the information.”

Mr. LiMandri said he believes CAIR’s politics and ideology are “inconsistent with our constitutional form of government.”

He said CAIR’s definition of bullying would extend to a Muslim student taking offense at criticism about some Muslim countries’ treatment of women and homosexuals.

“What we don’t want is to chill free speech so that people can’t have discussion about these important issues,” the lawyer said.

But Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way, is skeptical of Mr. LiMandri’s claims and said they are reminiscent of “right-wing campaigns against bullying statutes” and “anti-Islam propaganda.”

“I think that this fits into that sort of culture war rhetoric,” said Mr. Montgomery. “I think there are a lot of nonprofit organizations that provide curriculum and educational materials.”

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