FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST OKLAHOMA SCHOOL DISTRICT SEEKING TO PROTECT STUDENT’S RIGHT TO WEAR HEADSCARF TO PUBLIC SCHOOL
WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Department of Justice today announced that it will seek to intervene in a lawsuit pending against the Muskogee, Oklahoma Public School District to protect the right of a sixth-grade Muslim girl to wear a headscarf to school.
According to the complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, the student was twice suspended from the Benjamin Franklin Science Academy for refusing to take off her headscarf, or hijab, after being told that it violated the school’s dress code. That code prohibits students from wearing hats, caps, bandanas, or jacket hoods inside school buildings. The girl and her parents filed suit in October 2003. The Justice Department, in addition to its complaint, filed a motion to intervene in the private litigation. The case is entitled Hearn et al. v. Muskogee Public School District 020.
“No student should be forced to choose between following her faith and enjoying the benefits of a public education,” said Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta. “We certainly respect local school systems’ authority to set dress standards, and otherwise regulate their students, but such rules cannot come at the cost of constitutional liberties. Religious discrimination has no place in American schools.”
The complaint alleges that the school district violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which bars states from applying dress codes in an inconsistent and discriminatory manner. The complaint asks the court to prohibit the school district from discriminating against the student, and to have the dress code policy revised to ensure that discrimination on the basis of religion does not continue.
Additional information about the Educational Opportunities Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division can be found at www.usdoj.gov/crt/crt-home.html. <http://www.usdoj.gov>