The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today welcomes a Department of Justice (DOJ) decision to support the right of an Oklahoma student to wear an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
School officials in Muskogee, Okla., had suspended the Muslim sixth-grader twice last fall because they claimed her hijab violated their dress code policy prohibiting hats, caps, bandanas or other headwear.
A CAIR alert about the girl's suspension drew international media attention and prompted hundreds of concerned Muslims to contact local and state education officials to request religious accommodation. School district officials subsequently allowed the Muslim student to attend classes pending a review of the dress code policy.
The girl’s parents filed suit against the Muskogee School District last October. Yesterday, the federal government filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to support of the family’s lawsuit. (Hearn et al. v. Muskogee Public School District 020.)
"No student should be forced to choose between following her faith and enjoying the benefits of a public education," said Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta in a DOJ news release. "Religious discrimination has no place in American schools." See: http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2004/March/04_crt_195.htm
“This significant legal step may help set a precedent that will benefit students of all faiths,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. "Our government’s action also sends a clear message to the international community that America will defend its citizens' religious freedoms."
Earlier this year, France moved to ban Muslim head scarves in public schools. Other countries, even some with Muslim-majority populations, have or are considering similar bans.
The DOJ complaint alleges that the school district violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which bars states from applying dress codes in an inconsistent and discriminatory manner. CAIR also cited the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act as legal support for religious accommodation. That act states: "No governmental entity shall substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion.”
CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 26 offices nationwide and in Canada.