San Diego's school board continues to work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and enact its recommended anti-bullying curriculum despite a July vote withdrawing from a partnership with the Islamist group.
A motion for a preliminary injunction filed in federal court Tuesday seeks to put an end to that ongoing work.
The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) sued the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) last May on behalf of several San Diego parents, arguing that CAIR – as a religious organization – cannot steer public school curriculum and programming without violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause separating religion and state, not to mention California state law.
Those concerns led school district attorneys to recommend breaking off an anti-bullying partnership with CAIR last July. But school district emails obtained by the FCDF as part of the litigation make it clear CAIR's curriculum and program recommendations remain in play.
"Despite public statements to the contrary, Defendants have strengthened their partnership with" CAIR, the motion said. The school district is "delegating government power to a religious organization, and spending taxpayer money to advance a sectarian agenda."
The policy creates an unequal situation that makes it a "graver sin" to rip off a Muslim girl's hijab than to knock off a Jewish boy's kippah [skullcap], the motion said.
CAIR officials played a significant role crafting the anti-bullying/anti-Islamophobia program enacted by the school board last April. CAIR guided its development and implementation, internal district emails, obtained by the FCDF through a freedom of information request, show.
"Defendants contend that Muslim students are feeling particularly vulnerable. Yet there is not a scintilla of evidence that 'Islamophobia' – that is the pure hatred of Muslim students – runs rampant in District schools," FCDF said in its motion. "Instead, Defendants have relied solely on specious student surveys and testimonials that CAIR had provided as part of its lobbying for the Initiative."
SDUSD statistics explicitly mention only two bullying incidents that involved Muslim students were reported in 2015-16 among the entire 130,000-student school district. By contrast, 11 of the 18 students reported religious bullying cases targeted Jews. Three cases involved students whose religion was not specified in the incident reports.
The school district's emails "reveal the shocking depth of CAIR's infiltration into the second largest school district in California and the willfully blind complicity of the district's superintendent and school board," said FCDF Executive Director Daniel Piedra.
School district spokesman Andrew Sharp did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Last July, school board officials voted to discontinue plans to establish a formal relationship with CAIR under pressure from the FCDF's lawsuit. But San Diego schools continued to implement the CAIR-influenced anti-bullying/anti-Islamophobia program.
For example, Superintendent Cindy Marten invited members of CAIR's Education Committee to meet with her and Sharp a day later.
The CAIR Education Committee included CAIR San Diego board member Lallia Allali, CAIR San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi and Allali's husband CAIR California board member Taha Hassane, along with non-Muslim allies.
CAIR Education Committee leader Linda Williams told Marten in a July 28 email that the action steps enacted at the April 4 meeting were "still in effect."
Two weeks later, Sharp asked Williams to send him the "Text Kits and Resources to Address Islamophobia" that the committee put together. It included a list of books Allali had recommended in the spring. Williams called it the "very beginnings of what could grow into a robust 'Toolkit' for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators."
"We are delighted that the Curriculum departments will be reviewing these resources for potential use in our District!" Williams wrote. "We are glad to support the District's efforts in this way, and we look forward to further connections!"
Allali's book list included:
- · Rashad's Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr, which includes a chapter called "Thinking About Allah";
- · Does my Head Look Big in This?, which tells the story of a Muslim teenager who decides to wear a headscarf;
- · Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, about Ramadan.
CAIR's lobbying for a program targeting "Islamophobia" and the bullying of Muslims students dates back at least to 2011, emails show.
CAIR officials became primary resources for San Diego school officials and the two sides seem to have established close relationships. School district officials invited Hassane to present CAIR's bullying report for school psychologists during a January 2017 conference at the suggestion of Muslim school psychologist Kamal Boulazreg.
CAIR repeatedly invited school officials, such as school board Vice President Kevin Beiser, to its banquets. School district officials recognized Mohebi and CAIR for their work in the community in November 2015.
FCDF complains that all of this is inappropriate because CAIR's mission is to promote Islam.
CAIR's religious mission was explained by its national Executive Director Nihad Awad, who also goes by the name Nehad Hammad, during testimony last year about a union organizing effort before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). CAIR is a religious ministry, he said, making it exempt from the NLRB's jurisdiction.
Teaching Americans "about the Islamic faith is a religious obligation," an NLRB summary of Awad's testimony said. CAIR's letterhead, he noted, includes the phrase, "In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful," which opens every chapter in the Quran and identifies CAIR as a religious organization.
CAIR, the FCDF motion said, "prioritizes public school districts as ground zero to advance its religious mission." In seeking the injunction, the FCDF invokes a 1972 Supreme Court case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, which established a three-prong test that bars schools from helping or hindering religious practices.
"... [T]eachers may not give assignments or make comments that create the impression that the teacher, or the school at large, endorses religion or favors a particular religion over others," a guide written by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State says.
That's what the San Diego School District is doing with the CAIR-designed anti-bullying program, FCDF argued. "Indeed, the Initiative sends a message to Plaintiffs – as nonadherents of Islam – that they are outsiders, not full members of the school community," FCDF wrote in its motion.
A PowerPoint presentation used by the San Diego school board at its April 4 meeting expresses a desire to create "clubs at the secondary level to promote the American Muslim Culture."
This raises the question of whose brand of Islam would be sponsored in the schools.
Piedra argues that Hassane's and Mohebi's documented ties to extremists make CAIR San Diego "divisive." FCDF also contends their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic biases could taint their curricular recommendations.
"These radical connections strike at the heart of the Supreme Court's mandate that government has the highest obligation to keep divisive forces out of America's schools," Piedra said.
Hassane signed a pro-Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) declaration against Israel in August 2014. He also hosted Sheikh Main al-Qudah, an imam who held leadership positions in charities connected with terror financing, in December 2016 and in March 2016 at his mosque, the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD). Allali likewise posted a notice of Al-Qudah's visit to ICSD on her Facebook page in March 2016. Both of these actions took place when Hassane worked to influence school district officials.
Al-Qudah's LinkedIn profile shows he worked as director of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) in Jordan from 1994 until 1997. IIRO's founder "provided donor funds directly to al Qaida," the U.S. Treasury Department said. IIRO representatives cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorists in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. IIRO was a major financial conduit for Saudi funding of Hamas, the New York Daily News reported in 1996. Intelligence agencies found that major IIRO financial transfers ended up in the hands of Hamas front groups on the West Bank.
Al-Qudah served as general secretary of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in 1999, a group that U.S. authorities say has been involved in disseminating jihadi propaganda for decades. "WAMY has knowingly and intentionally used its international infrastructure as a tool for supporting the al Qaeda movement, on both the ideological and military fronts," a 2017 lawsuit against the Saudi BinLadin Group and others claims. He wrote a 2011 fatwa for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA) that allowed for Quranically-mandated tithing called zakat to be used for "legitimate jihad activities."
Other Al-Qudah fatwas for AMJA sanction wife beating; bar non-Muslims from "mocking Islam or making fun of any of its teachings;" state that Muslim states should execute apostates; that "[r]eestablishing the Muslim Caliphate is a must and a communal obligation upon Muslims;" and state that "no one has the right to remain in his or her Christianity or Judaism."
Both Hassane and Mohebi attended AMJA's March 2016 conference outside Chicago. Mohebi asked that Al-Qudah be blessed for his teaching at that convention. At AMJA's 2015 conference, Mohebi expressed his "love" for Sheikh Salah Al-Sawy, who wrote a 2009 fatwa sanctioning violent jihad against Israel on AMJA's website. Hassane hosted Al-Sawy as a guest preacher at his mosque in late January 2014, referring to him in a Jan. 16, 2014 Facebook post as "beloved." Allali also promoted Al-Sawy's visit on her Facebook page.
School districts should be cautious when choosing partners like CAIR, American Islamic Forum for Democracy founder Zuhdi Jasser told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Jasser argues that groups like CAIR refuse to take "ownership of the fact that the Islamist ideology from which they derive their oxygen and livelihood is the primary problem."
"There is absolutely no honesty regarding how these groups that claim to be about preserving the Constitution and Muslim rights actually put out information and reports, and fundraising by demonizing the very country, the very leaders and that demonization plays a very large role in the radicalization process," Jasser said.
John Rossomando writes for the Investigative Project on Terrorism.