The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a new website to help families know their children’s legal rights when faced with religious discrimination in public schools. It’s the latest efforts to help end religious harassment which includes a new data system to monitor these types of incidents.
“Religion-related bullying can also stem from major world events, such as terrorist attacks,” says Heba Abdelmaksoud, who is a Muslim parent, hailing from Egypt. She remembers soon after 9-11, her older son coming home from school after being cruelly taunted for his faith. Ms. Abdelmaksoud used this as a teachable moment, telling her son that he may indeed be different than their peers and that was okay. “I wanted them to be proud. They have their identity, and it’s OK to be a minority,” she commented.
Mark Fowler, deputy chief executive officer of the non-profit Tanenbaum, works to fight religious discrimination, and says that adults should answer any questions that children have about religion in a way that is “responsible, nonjudgmental and non-stereotypical,” and that in turn, students should learn to respond to a classmate’s hijab or cross necklace with curiosity rather than negativity. “We’re not just talking about a soft skill. We’re talking about preparing young people for college and for careers in a 21st century environment that is multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religion.”