Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America applauded the U.S. Department of Justice for defending the right of an 11-year-old Muslim girl to wear a head-scarf to her Oklahoma public school after she was suspended for doing so. The Muskogee School District claims it took the action because it could make no exceptions to a policy banning all head coverings, even those worn for religious purposes.
The UOJCA applauded DOJ’s legal action which seeks to compel the school district to change its policy on the grounds that it violated the student’s constitutional right to the Free Exercise of religion.
“We applaud the Justice Department’s vigorous defense of religious liberty,” said UOJCA president Harvey Blitz, “this is a critical issue to us and to all Americans and we deeply appreciate the fact that since taking office, President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Acosta have placed religious liberty issues at the forefront of the DOJ agenda.”
The UOJCA criticized the Muskogee school officials. UOJCA director of public policy, Nathan J. Diament, stated:
The school district is ignoring America’s “first freedom” by infringing on this young girl’s right to religious observance. There is no rational basis for the district to have this policy and we urge them to reverse it immediately.”
Diament went on to note that the UOJCA, and a broad coalition of religious groups, are actively supporting a bipartisan proposal pending in congress – the Workplace Religious Freedom Act – which would reinstate federal legal protections for adult Americans wearing head-scarves or other religious clothing, as well as their ability to observe other religious practices, in the workplace. The proposal, sponsored by Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and John Kerry (D-Ma) and 20 other senators, is currently awaiting legislative action. Diament stated:
It is important that Congress take up this measure a champion religious expression for all Americans – young and old. Perhaps we need to amend it to explicitly include schoolchildren’s rights so that what we’ve seen lately in France, which is so obviously at odds with America’s foundational rights to religious freedom, cannot come to govern our schoolchildren as well.