- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2019

A religious liberty advocacy group warned a Seattle-area school district Monday that it faces a lawsuit unless it revokes a letter sent to schools urging them to offer children an Arabic greeting for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that has just begun.

Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund says the Dieringer School District is following a script laid out by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that urged schools to make special accommodations, including altering testing times and wishing students “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem.”

The defense fund says Dieringer Superintendent Judy Martinson “enacted the letter as official district policy” by distributing it to principals, who in turn issued it to teachers. A parent and a teacher complained to the defense fund, which fired off its letter of a lawsuit unless the school district corrects matters.

Daniel J. Piedra, executive director of FCDF, said there are a number of problems with what CAIR suggested, including suggestions that schools proactively inform students they can take excused absences for religious observations and that teachers welcome Muslim students to class with the Arabic greetings.

“Exchanging Islamic greetings with Muslim students impermissibly advances and promotes a religious message,” Mr. Piedra said in his warning letter.

The school district declined to comment to The Washington Times.

A lawyer for CAIR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In its letter CAIR’s Washington chapter told school districts to be aware of Ramadan and the Eid al Fitr celebration that concludes the month, as well as Eid al Adha, another holy day on the Islamic calendar in August.

During Ramadan observant Muslims don’t eat or drink from dawn to sunset.

CAIR suggested students be allowed to skip the cafeteria and go to the library during that time — which the defense fund said could be permissible.

But suggestions to schedule tests to avoid conflicting with the holidays or to wish a religious greeting would conflict with the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishment of religion, the defense fund said.

Mr. Piedra wrote that the greetings are imbued with a religious meaning, and for students, it is the equivalent of a teacher-led prayer in school.

“By blessing Muslim students in Arabic, teachers unmistakably endorse religion in a constitutionally impermissible way,” he wrote.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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