Civil rights report documents anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment in Oklahoma
Increased presidential campaign rhetoric about terrorism is fueling anti-Muslim discrimination and harassment, according to a lawyer with the Council on American Islamic Relations of Oklahoma.
“Comments by this crop of candidates are normalizing ideas about Muslims and that people need to be afraid of them,” said Veronica Laizure, CAIR’s staff attorney and the group’s civil rights director. “People are actually entertaining the idea that banning Muslims could actually happen.”
Remarks by presidential candidates such as those made by Donald Trump regarding a proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. have heightened fears among American citizens while also creating added tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, she said.
Because of the candidates’ remarks, CAIR-OK held a press conference asking each candidate to place their emphasis on issues and not Islamophobic comments.
“We called on all political candidates to stop normalizing anti-Muslim fear and hatred,” Laizure said.
Laizure made her comments in connection with CAIR’s 2015 Civil Rights Report which shows 32 percent of the discrimination cases reported to CAIR-OK involve a denial of religious accommodation.
Samantha Elauf was at the center of a high-profile religious accommodation case in Tulsa when she was not hired at Abercrombie Kids. Although she scored well in the personal interview, a regional manager recommended against hiring Elauf because her hijab did not fit the store’s “look policy.”
Eventually, Elauf’s case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled Abercrombie violated federal law by failing to hire her because of her need for a religious accommodation.
The civil rights report also shows 27 percent of the discrimination cases focus on harassment while three other categories – bullying, employment and denial of service or access – are listed at 9 percent.
Unfortunately, acts of terrorism – whether in the U.S. or overseas – create a spike in harassment cases and anti-Muslim abuse in Oklahoma, Laizure said.
“Muslims have become the scapegoat and are automatically supposed to be supportive of anything ISIS or other terrorists do,” she said. “That’s not the case. We have issued countless releases and statements that say in no uncertain terms that we do not support attacks on civilians and do not support terrorism in any way.”
Still, homegrown bigotry and an uneducated citizenry create struggles for Muslim adults and children, the civil rights report shows.
“We see cases where students struggle with the prejudice and ignorance of their peers, their classmates, and even their teachers,” Laizure wrote in the report. “When we hear about these situations we intervene and spread awareness and education, ensuring that the learning environment is protected for our Muslim children.”
Laizure suggests that non-Muslims become educated about the Muslim way of life before making snap judgements based on a presidential candidate’s comments, which in many cases is made to enflame a certain segment of the electorate.
“Get to know Muslims. Contact the local mosque and ask for a tour. Attend their Friday prayers. Stand up for Muslims if you see them being harassed in public,” she said. “Let the Muslims know they are a part of the community. Learn what CAIR is doing. Learn why Muslims pray five times a day and why they face northeast.”
Laizure shared a story about a man who attended CAIR’s first Muslim Day at the Capitol in February. Apparently, the man was irate that Muslims were having the event.
“He approached me at the registration booth and said ‘I feel uncomfortable with this and don’t know why.’ We sat him down with Imad Enchassi (a local Imam) and a community member. He stayed for our lunch and our afternoon session. As he was leaving, he stopped me and said ‘I understand so much more now why it’s important you guys are here.’ He put aside his fear and prejudice and came to learn something.”
Education has been a focus for Laizure since joining the CAIR staff. In one instance, a young student and his mother, a hijabi, were harassed by a teacher while they had lunch in the school cafeteria. The situation was reported to CAIR-OK who followed up with the school. A civil rights complaint also was filed with the school district.
Although the district’s investigation failed to disclose specific wrongdoing, the administration invited CAIR-OK to host a training session on the needs and rights of young Muslim students.
“Through our diversity training, we educated teachers on the particular needs of Muslim students and their families and helped facilitate cross-cultural understanding, optimizing the educational success of other young Muslims at that school,” Laizure wrote in the Civil Rights Report.
The complete civil rights report can be found at www.cairoklahoma.com