FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REACHES SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
WITH OKLAHOMA SCHOOL DISTRICT IN MUSLIM STUDENT
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Justice today announced the settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the Muskogee, Oklahoma Public School District had violated the constitutional rights of a sixth-grade Muslim girl when it barred her from wearing a Muslim headscarf, or hijab. Under the consent agreement signed by the parties, the school district will allow the girl to wear the headscarf and will revise its student dress code policy to accommodate exceptions for bona fide religious reasons.
“This settlement reaffirms the principle that public schools cannot require students to check their faith at the school house door,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate discrimination against Muslims or any other religious group. As the President and the Attorney General have made clear repeatedly, such intolerance is un-American, and is morally despicable.”
The Justice Department intervened in this case in March 2004, after an investigation revealed that the school district prohibited the student, Nashala Hearn, from wearing her hijab at Benjamin Franklin Science Academy, a public middle school in Muskogee. The investigation further uncovered that while Hearn was prohibited from wearing her hijab, the school district allowed certain other students to wear head coverings for non-religious purposes. During the 2003-04 school year, the school district twice suspended Nashala Hearn for wearing the hijab. Later, she was permitted her to wear the hijab pending the outcome of the suit.
The parties today signed a proposed consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, resolving the lawsuit. Under the six-year agreement, which remains subject to court approval, the school district will amend its dress code to permit head coverings for bona fide religious reasons and will allow Hearn to wear her hijab while attending the Muskogee Public Schools. The district will also implement a training program for all teachers and administrators regarding the amended dress code, publicize the revised dress code policy to students and parents and certify its compliance with the terms of the order for a four-year period.
The Civil Rights Division is involved in a number of ongoing religious liberty cases in schools and many other contexts. More information about these cases may be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/religdisc/religdisc.html.