The Project for Constitutional Rights in Education (PCRE) provides guidance and legal help to students and their families whose fundamental civil liberties are threatened by religiously discriminatory school policies. We also educate school boards that face external pressure by activist groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to enact programs promoting a sectarian agenda under the guise of “tolerance” and “diversity.” We do this in several ways:
- Conduct outreach to school administrators and encourage them to enforce school policies that protect all students from bullying and harassment, regardless of religion
- When necessary, take legal action to make sure schools fulfill their legal obligations to protect all students from harassment, intimidation, and discrimination
- Work with our partners in the media to generate publicity surrounding CAIR’s agenda to infiltrate schools and indoctrinate vulnerable schoolchildren
- Highlight revisionist curriculum that is often anti-Semitic and anti-Israel
Religiously Motivated Bullying
According to the Department of Education, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Public schools have a careful balancing act when their students seek accommodations for their religious beliefs. As a general rule, public schools may not advance any specific religion or discriminate in their treatment of different religions. They must also avoid acting or failing to act in any way that keeps students from freely exercising their religion.
Public Schools’ Obligations
The First Amendment has two clauses about religion. First, there’s the “Establishment Clause,” which prevents the government from endorsing, advancing, or preferring one religion over another. Second, there’s the “Free Exercise Clause,” which prohibits the government from preventing people from freely exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs. In the school context, religious accommodation is generally a Free Exercise Clause issue. The Supreme Court has developed different “tests” to analyze free exercise cases in the public schools.
Congress also has passed laws protecting students’ religious rights. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act declares that a public school may “burden” a student’s religious exercise only if there’s a “compelling interest” to do so. If there is a compelling interest, then whatever action the government takes must be “narrowly tailored” to further that end. The Equal Access Act ensures that student religious groups (i.e., Bible study or prayer groups) are allowed the same access to school grounds as non-religious student groups.
Students’ Religious Rights
Public school students have the following rights:
- The right to use school facilities for Bible study and prayer groups on an equal basis with secular student groups
The right to express their faith in school assignments without any consequence
The right to pray outside of the classroom in a non-disruptive way
The right to share their faith and pass out religious literature with their classmates in a non-forceful way
The right to display faith-based messages if students are allowed to display secular expressions
- The right to wear faith-based jewelry such as a crucifix or a Star of David
The right to opt out of lessons that would conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs or otherwise burden their free exercise of religion
Teaching about Religion
Public schools may not proselytize or indoctrinate students into one religion, but teachers may teach about religion, including the Bible in a historical or literary context; the history of religion in the United States; and religious influences on art, music, and literature
Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays (i.e., Christmas or Easter), schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.
Outside Sectarian Groups
Public schools may not allow outside sectarian groups to influence school policy or indoctrinate students in a coercive educational environment. If a religiously affiliated group has a secular purpose, it may engage in school-sponsored activities as long as other religious groups have the same access and school officials are not favoring one religious group over another.
Teaching about Values
Though schools must be neutral concerning religion, they may teach civic values and virtue as moral codes that form the foundation of America. That some of these values derive from the Bible or Western Civilization does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.
Threat: Council on American-Islamic Relations
CAIR has chosen public schools as ground zero to advance its religious mission. Nihad Awad, CAIR’s National Executive Director, testified that “informing the American public about the Islamic faith is a religious obligation,” and the purpose of its “Islamophobia” public school programs is to “create a religious educational environment.” Despite its appearance as a mainstream, social justice organization, CAIR is notorious in public policy and national security circles for its ties to Islamic supremacism, including its founding by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They should not be allowed in America’s public schools.
If any of the following has occurred, we urge you to complete the form below. Please note that any information you share with FCDF will remain strictly confidential and it will not bind you to take any further action (including speaking with FCDF).
- You believe your school is considering or already partnering with CAIR to allow them to indoctrinate students under the guise of “cultural awareness” or “combating Islamophobia”
- You are a school board member who wants to learn more about CAIR and the nature of its lobbying
- You witnessed or experienced anti-Christian or anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation, or discrimination
- You have been targeted by CAIR or other anti-Semitic organizations
- Your school has adopted anti-bullying policies that single out one or more religious groups for special benefits
Yesterday, FCDF sent a data records request to Minneapolis Public Schools, demanding the production of emails that could show whether MPS is unlawfully collaborating with the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Minnesota chapter to both single out Muslim students for special benefits and revise school curricula to portray Islam in a more “inclusive” light. In…
District Warned Not to Work with CAIR to Revise Anti-Bullying Policies and Curricula Today, FCDF sent a letter to Cajon Valley Union School District’s Superintendent, David Miyashiro, expressing support for the District’s current anti-bullying policies and its handling of an alleged anti-Muslim bullying incident at a local middle school. Yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations…
In support of their case against the San Diego Unified School District’s “Islamophobia” initiative, FCDF asked the federal judge today for permission to file a Notice of Supplemental Authority to bring to the court’s attention a recent Ninth Circuit’s ruling in a school-based First Amendment case. In federal court, litigants can ask to file a letter…