Archive for the ‘San Diego public schools’ category

CAIR Loses San Diego Schools Partnership

July 26, 2017

CAIR Loses San Diego Schools Partnership, Investigative Project on Terrorism, John Rossomando, July 26, 2017

CAIR’s program aimed to increase education about Islam in the classroom. Parents and religious liberty advocates balked at singling out Muslim students for safe places without providing similar accommodations to other faiths. Muslim holidays would have been added to the school calendar, and campus events falling on those holidays would be rescheduled.

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SAN DIEGO – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) tried to have it both ways – claiming to be a civil rights organization when it suits its purposes, but admitting at other times that its mission is religious.

That duplicity has cost CAIR a partnership with San Diego public schools and threatens to sabotage a plan to take an educational program national.

San Diego school board members agreed Tuesday night not to work with CAIR on a campaign to specifically fight anti-Muslim bullying generated by an exaggerated CAIR report. Instead, the Anti-Defamation League is poised to work on a program that aims “to comprehensively address the issue of bullying of all students.”

The agenda item specifically mentioned that school board “staff is redirected from forming a formal partnership with CAIR to forming an intercultural committee which shall include representatives of from all faiths and cultures and which shall provide input to District staff on issues of cultural sensitivities and the individual needs of various subgroups within our diverse community.”

Still, speaker after speaker criticized the proposal for excluding CAIR and for not specifically emphasizing anti-Muslim bigotry and “Islamophobia.” CAIR-San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi managed to make that argument while still denying CAIR was singularly focused.

“We have never come out saying that it should only be one group. But I think also we should realize that it might be a mistake not to focus on groups that are targeted much more than the rest,” Mohebi said. “So that being said, we expect the district to publicly acknowledge and recognize the work that we have done for over a decade with the school district.”

While the Anti-Defamation League also has a focus on protecting a specific group – Jews – Regional Director Tammy Gillies said its mission also is to “secure justice and fair treatment for all. That ‘and’ is the most important part of our mission statement. When one community is unsafe we are all unsafe.”

The ADL program, she noted, has been evaluated by Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and other respected institutions.

The board agreed to work with CAIR in April. CAIR’s program aimed to increase education about Islam in the classroom. Parents and religious liberty advocates balked at singling out Muslim students for safe places without providing similar accommodations to other faiths. Muslim holidays would have been added to the school calendar, and campus events falling on those holidays would be rescheduled.

It was obvious, though, that board members reluctantly decided to implement a broader policy addressing bullying across cultures and religious backgrounds. Vice President Kevin Beiser reaffirmed his support for CAIR and thanked it for over a decade of partnership, but said supported the revised proposal “because I believe it codifies the board’s commitment and my commitment to making sure that all students are safe. We do have certain groups of students who are bullied at much higher rates than other students.

“We need to work together to solve that problem,” Beiser said, “and we want to thank CAIR and all of you in the Muslim community for your partnership.”

The anti-bullying program was never about “promoting a religion” as some critics claimed, said Board President Richard Barerra.

But lawyers with the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) sued the school district in May, claiming the program did place Muslim students above others, violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause, the Fourteenth Amendment and California law barring assistance to religion. They also claimed the anti-bullying program was a solution to an exaggerated problem.

None of the speakers advocating for CAIR’s continued involvement addressed that Constitutional concern.

A report by CAIR’s California chapters, “Growing in Faith: California Muslim Youth Experiences with Bullying, Harassment & Religious Accommodation in Schools” inspired the program, FCDF’s lawsuit claims.

The school district’s decision to back away from partnering with CAIR is an important victory, FCDF Executive Director Daniel Piedra told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). But he remains concerned that CAIR still may partner with the school district on other programs.

Mohebi and his allies seemed upset that they will not be able to use the school district to further their agenda, Piedra said after the meeting.

“They talk about equality, but it’s really Orwellian because in their philosophy and the school board’s philosophy, they are really saying that all students are equal but that some students are more equal than others,” Piedra said.

The FCDF lawsuit remains alive despite Tuesday’s decision to switch from CAIR’s program to the ADL’s. The group wants to learn more about CAIR’s role in drafting the anti-bullying program. If it turns out that CAIR was intimately involved, the lawsuit may move forward because students’ rights would have been violated, Piedra said, and to ensure that CAIR loses future opportunities to shape policy.

FCDF could seek monetary damages, he said, but it may ask a judge to impose a consent decree compelling the school district to not partner with CAIR again.

“We are willing to work with them; however, violating the Constitution is a serious allegation, and we are going to hold that to the school district every step of the way,” Piedra said.

Under the now-abandoned program, students accused of bullying Muslim students were supposed to face “restorative justice,” requiring them to reconcile with the other student. The school district would provide monthly reports on the bullying of Muslim students and post them online.

The district’s reversal follows the FCDF’s amended complaint filed last month, which challenged CAIR’s local effort to hide behind the label of being a “civil rights organization.” It pointed to testimony by CAIR co-founder and Executive Director Nihad Awad, who told the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it lacked jurisdiction over a fight over unionizing CAIR employees because CAIR is a religious organization.

CAIR letterhead includes the invocation, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” which opens every chapter in the Quran, Charles L. Posner, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, wrote in an April 7 ruling.

This religious acknowledgement goes to the heart of the Establishment Clause‘s separation of church and state.

The loss of the San Diego program is a set-back for CAIR’s desire to take an “anti-Muslim bullying” program national. It represents the biggest government rebuke to CAIR since the FBI instituted a policy in 2008 to break-off outreach programs due to CAIR’s documented history in a Muslim-Brotherhood created Hamas-support network in the United States.

And it should send a message to districts throughout the country, Piedra said, warning CAIR that his organization will sue any public school district that partners with it in a similar anti-bullying program.

“We want to be sure for the benefit of our schoolchildren that CAIR is kept out of America’s schools,” Piedra said.

IPT Exclusive: Updated Suit Against San Diego Schools Highlights CAIR’s Radical Ties

June 29, 2017

IPT Exclusive: Updated Suit Against San Diego Schools Highlights CAIR’s Radical Ties, Investigative Project on Terrorism, John Rossomando, June 28, 2017

Lawyers for parents suing the San Diego Unified School District (SCUSD) over the implementation of its Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-backed anti-Islamophobia program have updated the complaint they filed in federal court last month. The updated filing adds focus on CAIR’s Hamas ties and its status as a religious organization, in addition to shining a greater spotlight on how the scheme violates California law.

This anti-Islamophobia program came about due to lobbying by CAIR, and was passed by the school board, according to the plaintiffs, with the aim of stopping anti-Muslim bullying. But the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) – the group filing the lawsuit – and plaintiff parents don’t buy into the rationale.

As in the original complaint, the plaintiffs continue to assert that the school district created a “discriminatory scheme” that establishes Muslims as a privileged group. The anti-Islamophobia program allegedly does so because similar policies do not protect adherents of non-Muslim religions from similar harassment, and as such, violates state and federal law.

School district officials noted they would “identify safe places” for Muslim students and “explore clubs at the secondary level to promote the American Muslim Culture,” the updated complaint said. Similar accommodations are not being given to adherents of other religions who feel bullied or harassed.

The amended complaint notes that the school district only found seven reported incidents of religiously motivated bullying of K-12 students between July 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016, but did not specify the victims’ religion(s).

“Applying this number, the number of K-12 students who reported an incident of religiously motivated bullying and harassment is approximately 0.006 % of actively enrolled students,” the revised complaint said.

It also notes that CAIR-CA’s 2014 report that led the school district to adopt its anti-Islamophobia program found that only 7 percent of students reported being subjected to mean comments or rumors about them because of their religion. FCDF Executive Director Daniel Piedra told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) the so-called anti- Islamophobia program might be a solution to a non-problem, but it’s great for CAIR’s fundraising.

“CAIR-SD solicits donations on its public website to ‘Combat Bullying in Schools,’ which is listed as a ‘specific program,'” the updated complaint said.

Is CAIR a Religious Ministry or a Civil Rights Group?

This revised complaint aims to undermine any attempt by the San Diego schools to cast CAIR as a secular civil rights group; the complaint now includes CAIR testimony in a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case explicitly claiming it is a religious group.

“This can help shape public opinion, so that’s what’s great about so-called lawfare [filing lawsuits to accomplish political goals],” Piedra said.

Yet CAIR San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi sought to downplay his group’s religious character after Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) attorney Charles LiMandri announced the suit. The FCDF claimed among other things that having the SCUSD work with CAIR to formulate the anti-Islamophobia program violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Mohebi described CAIR as a civil rights and liberties organization.

“I am appalled. I am not happy with people who have no shame to label people with no facts,” NBC San Diego quoted Mohebi as having said in response.

CAIR’s National Executive Director Nihad Awad, referred to in the NRLB case as Nehad Hammad, contradicted Mohebi, asserting that CAIR is a religious ministry and is therefore exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction. [Awad’s full name is Nehad Awad Hammad, according to a 200-page deposition.]

“The Employer’s letterhead includes a header that reads, ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’ According to Hammad, the header is there to identify the Employer as a religious organization, and the header [on CAIR stationery] is the opening verse of every chapter of the Quran,” Charles L. Posner, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, wrote in his April 7 ruling.

The lawyers cite Awad’s testimony in the NRLB case, noting that he stated that “informing the American public about the Islamic faith is a religious obligation, and distributing these publications is both a religious and educational exercise.”

They also note in their amended complaint in the San Diego case that CAIR’s National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 1993 that he “wouldn’t like to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future. … I’m going to do it through education.”

These facts can go a long way toward helping the plaintiffs build their case that working with CAIR violates the Establishment Clause, Piedra said.

SDUSD has had a long relationship with CAIR. Back in March 2012 the school district entered into a partnership agreement with the Islamist group to create a “Teaching Against Islamophobia Training Program for Faculty and Staff of SDUSD.” The amended complaint also notes that the school board gave CAIR San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi an award in November 2015 recognizing CAIR’s role in “promoting equitable educational opportunity for all students.” The proclamation recognizing Mohebi also noted that CAIR San Diego had taught students for 10 years to “accept and honor religious and cultural differences among their peers.”

Another example of CAIR-CA’s religious activity is the distribution by CAIR-CA, the parent organization of CAIR San Diego, of a pamphlet titled, “An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Practices,” that includes citations from the Quran. Further, CAIR San Diego officials visited an elementary school in the district in February to lecture Seventh and Eighth graders about Islamophobia.

Mohebi has already been in the schools over a dozen times talking about Islam, Piedra said.

CAIR-CA urges Muslim students to report alleged bullying episodes through its website rather than through the school district directly. According to the school district’s bullying and intimidation policy students making the complaints may seek damages in civil court, the amended complaint notes.

“According to CAIR-CA, if the Anti-Islamophobia Initiative is successful, ‘San Diego Unified School District would be the leading school district in the nation to come up with a robust and beautiful anti-bully and anti-Islamophobic program,'” the amended complaint said.

CAIR-CA has a broader definition of bias and bullying than the school district does. The updated lawsuit said that CAIR’s definition could cause students to be accused of Islamophobia even if they “neither prefer nor incline toward Islamic beliefs and Muslim culture.”

“The California education code prohibits school districts from sponsoring any activity that promotes discriminatory bias on the basis of religion,” Piedra said. But “[t]he anti-Islamophobia program promotes a discriminatory bias.”

Piedra notes that state law requires complete neutrality when it comes to religion, and CAIR’s definition of bullying is so broad that unintentional slights could potentially land students in hot water.

Plaintiffs Raise Questions Regarding CAIR Hamas Ties

Piedra contends the amended complaint also offers an opportunity to define who CAIR is, particularly when it comes to its Hamas ties.

“Six CAIR leaders have been arrested, convicted or deported for terrorism crimes; of course, we have it as an unindicted co-conspirator [in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Hamas fundraising trial]. Among those convicted [in the HLF trial] was [Ghassan] Elashi, the founder of CAIR’s Dallas chapter,” Piedra said.

The amended complaint alludes to the HLF trial’s findings, saying “Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that Muslim Brotherhood leaders founded CAIR and that CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists.” Federal Judge Jorge Solis wrote that pieces of evidence introduced by prosecutors in the 2008 HLF trial “do create at least a prima facie case as to CAIR’s involvement in a conspiracy to support Hamas” in his July 2009 ruling.

Awad openly expressed his support for Hamas at a March 22, 1994 forum held at Barry University in Florida saying, “I used to support the PLO, and I used to be the President of the General Union of Palestine Students which is part of the PLO here in the United States, but after I researched the situation inside Palestine and outside, I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.”

He again defended Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups a decade later when he accused CAIR’s critics of spreading “an Israeli viewpoint” during a 2004 interview with Al-Jazeera. He referred to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, as well as Hizballah, as “liberation movements.

“I truly do not condemn these organizations,” Awad said. “I will condemn them only when I see that media outlets are requiring the heads of Jewish foundations in America to condemn Israel for its treatment of innocent people; for killing people whether in Lebanon, Qana, or Palestine; for bulldozing their homes; and for their flagrant human rights violations.

“We do not and will not condemn any liberation movement inside Palestine or Lebanon.”

Internal documents seized by the FBI show that CAIR and its founders, Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad, belonged to a Muslim Brotherhood network known as the Palestine Committee. Both men appear on a telephone list of Palestine Committee members [Ahmad is listed under a pseudonym “Omar Yehya”]; CAIR is listed on a meeting agenda listing the committee’s branches.

The amended complaint references an April 2009 letter from FBI headquarters in Washington to former U.S. Sen. John Kyl explaining its 2008 decision to suspend its relationship with CAIR due to concern about “a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS.”

The plaintiffs’ lawyers note that the U.S. Department of Justice reaffirmed this policy of not cooperating with CAIR in September 2013, and that the United Arab Emirates classified CAIR as a terrorist organization in 2014.