November 2018 Church & State - November 2018

Court Allows California Anti-Bullying Curriculum To Remain

  Rob Boston

A federal judge has ruled that efforts by the San Diego Unified School District to educate about Islam can remain in place for now.

The controversy stretches back to 2016, when several instances of bullying of Muslim students were reported in San Diego’s public schools. The following year, officials devised a curriculum designed to counter the bullying, in part by offering education about Islam.

School officials later expanded the program to address all forms of bullying. But a group of parents sued, arguing that the district was offering preferential treatment to Islam.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant disagreed. In a preliminary ruling issued in late September, Bashant held that all students, not just Muslims, can benefit from the district’s efforts to combat bullying.

“Based on plaintiffs’ own definitions, the initiative’s focus is not on religion, but on conduct and behavior,” Bashant wrote. “It is simply not accurate for plaintiffs to suggest that the district excludes organizations with focuses on other religions or religious groups from the district.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the group that is sponsoring the lawsuit, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, has vowed to press ahead with it.

“The court’s comprehensive ruling rightfully recognized the sensitive First Amendment concerns in the public schools,” Daniel Piedra, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “But the judge failed to address the critical facts and well-established constitutional law proving that the district is clearly discriminating in favor of one religious sect. Despite today’s ruling, our clients remain fully confident they have the Constitution on their side.” (Citizens for Quality Education San Diego v. Barrera)

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