Seeking a federal injunction on Tuesday, a parents' group claims a San Diego Unified School District program to reduce anti-Islamic bullying unconstitutionally favors Islamic students over others, including Jews.
Citizens for Quality Education San Diego sued the school district in May last year, challenging its anti-Islamophobia initiative.
In announcing the initiative that April, school board vice president Kevin Beiser told The Associated Press that bullying of Muslim students was pervasive and vastly underreported.
"Muslim students are constantly being harassed, spit on, verbally abused, pushed, shoved, their hijabs are being pulled," Beiser told the AP, calling it a "serious problem probably in every public school in the country."
The plan included education on Muslim culture, reviewing library material on the subject, and providing resources to teachers, with assistance from the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR. The board approved it 4-0 with one member absent, in a meeting at which no one in the audience spoke either for or against the plan.
Citizens for Quality Education took direct aim at CAIR on Tuesday, calling "a notorious sectarian organization" in a 30-page memo in support of its request for a preliminary injunction.
"First, in light of defendants' 'anti-Islamophobia initiative,' it is a far graver sin for a bully to tug on a Muslim student's hijab than it is to knock off a Jewish student's kippah," according to the memo by Charles LiMandri with the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund in Rancho Santa Fe.
"Second, defendants have chosen to politicize the schoolchildren entrusted to their care rather than cut ties with a notorious sectarian association. Defendants insist, however, that their 'holistic' campaign against the purported 'Islamophobic' children in district schools is simply part of their efforts 'to protect all students from bullying.'"
Beiser told the AP that the anti-Islamophobic program was based on a similar program he introduced to reduce anti-LGBT bullying.
But in the legal memo submitted to the federal court, LiMandri wrote that the school district did not have "any credible evidence that a Muslim bullying crisis even existed."
In a 2017 report, CAIR found increased bullying of Muslim students in California, including having their hijabs pulled off – was up in California. LiMandri, however, wrote in the memo that in the 2015-2016 school year, San Diego Unified reported to California's Department of Education "just two instances related to Muslim students," but 11 incidents of anti-Semitic bullying.
"CAIR prioritizes public school districts as ground zero to advance its religious mission," the memo states. "To that end, CAIR has engaged the district to secure access to schools to hold 'anti-Islamophobia' teacher workshops, give lectures to students about accepting Muslim students and Islam and disseminate propaganda to teachers and students, including brochures about Islamic religious practices and Muslim student accommodations."
The parents' group claims this violates the First Amendment, provides "special treatment" for Muslim students, and "expressly singles them out for preferential benefits."
"Defendants knowingly crossed the bright line that separates the permissible from the impermissible, deliberately lavishing time, energy and benefits exclusively to Muslim students – all in violation of the No Preference Clause," the memo states.
They also claim the policy violates the "No Aid Clause" which prohibits expenditure of public funds for religious groups. They say the board is struggling with a $124 million budget deficit and spending freeze but still approved spending money on materials for the anti-bullying initiative.
The group claims these benefits – including recognizing Muslim holidays on district calendars and raising awareness of Muslim culture for staff members – are not "available on an equal basis" to other religious groups.
"There are no programs promoting 'Jewish culture.' There are no lectures from priests on how to accommodate Catholic students during Lent. And there are no partnerships with Evangelical Christian activists. In short, defendants have placed their power, prestige and purse behind a single religion: Islam," the parents claim.
Lead attorney LiMandri is an outspoken Catholic, formerly with the Thomas More Law Center, according to a 2013 profile of him in the National Catholic Register. He was involved in the fight against same-sex marriage in California, in trying to protect a giant statue of Jesus on public property on Mount Soledad in San Diego, in defending a county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and defending practitioners of so-called "gay conversion" therapy, according to the National Catholic Register. He founded his Rancho Santa Fe law office after he left the Thomas More Center.
He wants the injunction to bar implementation of the anti-Islamophobe initiative, to bar CAIR from "advanc(ing) their organizational objectives within the district," and to rid the school district of all CAIR materials, now and in the future.