CAIR California 


May 14, 2013

 Civil Rights Groups Say Department of Education Investigations are Politicized, Chill Student Speech


Civil Rights Groups Call on DOE to Take Steps to Ensure that Laws Designed to Protect Students from Discrimination are Not Misused to Unconstitutionally Stifle Student Speech on Pressing Political Issues

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA, 05/14/2013) - This morning, the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) and a coalition of civil rights organizations called on the Department of Education ("DOE") to review its procedures for handling investigations into UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Irvine for spurious allegations of anti-Semitism. In the letters sent to the DOE today, CAIR-CA said the politicization of the investigations was having a detrimental impact on students' First Amendment free speech rights.


"The Department of Education is sitting on several federal investigations in California that allege that criticism of Israel creates a hostile educational environment for Jewish students," said Asian Law Caucus Staff Attorney Christina Sinha. "The DOE should take civil rights complaints seriously, but these cross the line between defending civil rights and targeting controversial political views. As a result, the DOE is undermining academic freedom and chilling student participation in campus activism."


In recent years, political groups have filed, and threatened to file, complaints against various educational institutions with the DOE in an attempt to force campus administrators to restrict students from expressing viewpoints that promote Palestinian human rights or criticize Israeli government policies. These complaints allege that constitutionally protected speech on one of today's most important and contentious topics - the Israel-Palestine debate - is anti-Semitic if it involves criticism of Israel. They call on universities to restrict this type of speech to prevent what they call a "hostile climate" for Jewish students.


Since 2008, the DOE has opened three federal investigations into these California universities based on problematic allegations that, by allowing students to openly promote Palestinian human rights on campus, these universities violate civil rights laws that protect Jewish students. Though the complaints under investigation pit the interests of two sets of students against one another, the DOE has failed to seek factual input from the student groups implicated by the complaints, though the students have repeatedly made themselves available. The coalition's letters criticize the DOE for handling the complaints in a manner that likely violates the U.S. constitution and the DOE's own internal guidelines.


"By keeping investigations open for years at a time in contravention of its own internal guidelines, and by excluding the impacted groups from the investigation process, the DOE is facilitating a political agenda that harms the intellectual fabric of the campus community," said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo.


"The abuse of civil rights laws to silence political views tramples on the First Amendment, and is already causing a tangible, detrimental impact on Arab, Muslim, and other students  who espouse particular views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Liz Jackson, Cooperating Counsel for the Center for Constitutional Rights. "That contravenes the spirit of Title VI and of our Constitution. And it wrongly conflates Jewish identity with uncritical support for Israel."


Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 inter alia prohibits schools that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating against students because of their race, color, or national origin, and from allowing a discriminatory environment to foster on campus. The Office for Civil Rights ("OCR"), a sub-agency of the DOE, is in charge of investigating potential violations of this law.


The civil rights groups will be following up with the DOE to work towards a solution to these issues.


For more information, please see:

CAIR-CA is a chapter of CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR-SFBA Civil Rights Coordinator Rachel Roberts, 408.986.9874, E-Mail:; Asian Law Caucus Staff Attorney Christina Sinha, 415.848.7711, E-Mail: