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May 27, 2018 10:40 am

Jewish Civil Rights Group Urges US Government to Confront Religious Bullying

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Aviva Vogelstein, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law director of legal initiatives, testifies in front of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Photo: C-SPAN.

JNS.org – The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB), a Jewish civil- and human-rights group, is urging the US government to confront religious bullying and harassment in schools across the country following an alarming report on the scope of such activity.

Aviva Vogelstein, LDB’s director of legal initiatives, who testified in front of the US Commission on Civil Rights earlier this month, told JNS that the government should approach the issue of religious bullying the same way it confronts other forms of harassment.

“No child should be bullied or harassed based on any grounds, including religion. With over 10,000 incidents in federally funded schools, our government needs to prohibit religious harassment—just like it prohibits other forms of harassment. It’s unconscionable that this type of hate has gone unaddressed for this long. We urgently need strong enforcement, better legislation, and more data,” she said.

In her testimony in front of the Civil Rights Commission, Vogelstein told the members that there is on average approximately “30 incidents per school day, 150 incidents per school week, and 602 incidents per school month” of religiously motivated harassment and bullying.

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A US Department of Education report released last month, which included statistics on religiously motivated bullying and harassment, found an alarming 10,848 incidents based on religion in 2015-16.

According to the US. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying “is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use and suicide.” Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school and mental-health issues, and kids who bully others can engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood.

The Brandeis Center recommended three steps to combat religiously motivated bullying and harassment. First, Congress must enact legislation to protect students from religious-based harassment. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin,” does not protect students from harassment based on religion, absent an ethnic or ancestral component.

Second, the Department of Education should issue clear guidelines as to what is prohibited and what is permitted under Title VI.

Lastly, the Department of Education’s agreement to collect data is important, but the way the data is currently collected is not useful beyond general figures.

“Our government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to religious bullying taking place in our nation’s schools,” said Vogelstein. “Congress and the president must address the longstanding problem of religious hate crimes, harassment and bullying.”

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