By Susan Berry
The Department of Justice (DOJ) says it plans to “promote religious freedom” in schools, particularly for Muslim students who allegedly experience “discrimination” or “bullying” from other students in the nation’s public schools.
The federal schoolyard-policing plan is intended to “combat religious discrimination in schools and other educational settings,” Vanita Gupta – head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division — claimed March 8.
“These efforts will help us combat discriminatory backlash against Muslim students and students perceived as Muslim. But they will also benefit children of every background and every religion,” she said in a speech at the Interagency Roundtable on Religious Discrimination in Education in Newark, New Jersey, on March 8.
“This initiative will allow us to expand our ability to investigate and remedy complaints; to lead robust community outreach; and to develop critical guidance for federal prosecutors,” she said.
Regrettably, our country has not always lived up to the promise of its founding ideals. Even today, too many people continue to suffer discrimination, harassment and violence simply because of their religious beliefs. Following heinous acts of terrorism in particular, too many Muslim Americans – and those perceived as Muslim – suffer a backlash of violence and discrimination. We saw it after 9/11. And we continue to see it today following the tragic events in San Bernardino, California, and Paris. We see criminal threats against mosques; harassment in schools; and even reports of violence targeting Muslim Americans, people of Arab or South Asian descent and people perceived to be members of these groups.
“Our schools must remain the places where our children feel safe and supported,” Gupta said.
In December, Attorney General Loretta Lynch hinted at the new initiative when she urged Muslim parents attending a fundraiser for an Islamic advocacy group to contact both the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Education if they think their children are being “bullied” in school.
“We’ve seen this for a number of years, we saw it a lot in the New York area [after 9/11], unfortunately, where there would be a backlash against the Muslim community in general,” Lynch said at the dinner sponsored by Muslim Advocates.
Lynch said both the federal agencies will “provide guidance to schools on how to handle situations where students come to them and they feel bullied.”
The attorney general told the Muslim parents that their children may not have the “tools” to argue back or talk back when challenged, presumably by American kids. “So we are very, very active in that front as well,” Lynch said. “And so what I would urge people to do if you are aware of situations where children are involved, please contact the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.”
The education department defines “bullying” so broadly that it provides a justification for federal policing of many normal schoolyard disputes or even political arguments among teenagers:
Bullying is defined as a form of unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time… Verbal bullying is a form of intentional aggression that involves saying or writing things that are mean or hurtful to others.
“We can provide guidance, we can have conversations,” Lynch continued at the fundraiser. “Everything need not result in a lawsuit, but some things do have to go to that … area … we have an important, important role to play. So, please, please, think of us there.”