by John Rossomando
Officials in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) continue to give the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) unconstitutional preferential treatment in an anti-bullying program, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) argued in court papers filed earlier this week.
FCDF sued on behalf of several area parents and two interest groups. It has asked the court for a preliminary injunction forcing the school district to stop working with CAIR, arguing that working with a religious organization violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
CAIR played a central role in formulating anti-Islamophobia curriculum the school district passed in April 2017. School officials also contemplated entering into a formal partnership with CAIR. But they changed their minds last July, opting to partner instead with the Anti-Defamation League and to create an Intercultural Relations Community Council (IRCC).
Those moves, school board lawyers argued in a recent brief, render FCDF’s legal claim moot. CAIR, in an amicus – or friend of the court – brief, argued that the curriculum it helped develop did not teach Islamic texts as religious truths, and claimed it served the secular purpose of striving to deter bullying of Muslim students.
School district officials concede that CAIR’s mission is religious in nature, but that an injunction would be the same as “requiring that SDUSD discriminate against CAIR because it has a religious mission.” FCDF contends that CAIR views the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment as a sanction to advance its religious agenda with governmental support, which it argues runs afoul of the Establishment Clause.
CAIR San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi, however, denied that CAIR’s mission was primarily religious last year, after FCDF first filed its suit.
Records show the school district and CAIR continued to work closely despite the July vote. Mohebi was appointed to the serve on the IRCC.
In addition, school district officials hosted CAIR representatives at least six times for high-level meetings. Superintendent Cindy Marten sought CAIR’s input from CAIR about the ADL curriculum when it came to “addressing Islamophobia,” the brief said. The school district also gave CAIR special recognition in November.
School officials say they work with CAIR as they would with any other community organization, but FCDF Executive Director Daniel Piedra says the district gave CAIR preferential treatment.
“They can’t get around the fact that nothing really has changed, and that the intercultural committee was created to keep Mohebi and CAIR involved in the school district,” Piedra said.