RNA - California’s legislature has moved to protect students from bullying based on religion, responding to what the new law’s author says is an increase in Islamophobia.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed Assembly Bill 2845, the Safe Place to Learn Act, which requires the California Department of Education to monitor whether school districts provide resources to staff related to bullying based on actual — or perceived — religious affiliation.
It also requires the state superintendent of public instruction to make an online list of resources and support groups for youth and their families who are bullied on that basis.
The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams of Carpinteria, said while many bullying-related bills are largely symbolic, he hopes the compliance monitoring portion of the bill will help it effect change.
“No bullying bill can actually work unless school personnel take it to heart, use the resources that we have provided and fight school-based discrimination and harassment,” Williams said by telephone. “A society that allows persecution of people because of their religious affiliation and national origin, if we allow that in our society, it will be one group that is persecuted today and another tomorrow.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations found in a study of 2014 survey results that 55 percent of California’s Muslim students reported being bullied based on their religious identity. For those who wear a hijab, 29 percent reported being offensively touched by another student, and 27 percent reported discrimination by teachers.
California has become the first state to enact such legislation in response to Islamophobia, according to Harjit Kaur of the Sikh Coalition.
Kaur recalled a middle school girl who testified in early hearings for the bill that she had been bullied and her hijab had been repeatedly pulled off of her head.
“She said she thought that if her peers understood who she was and why she wears the scarf, they wouldn’t bully her,” Kaur said. “She felt a lot of this comes from curiosity or what they hear in the media or out and about, but she felt maybe if they found out more about her, this wouldn’t happen.”
Kaur said the problem is that many Americans associate Muslims and turbaned men with terrorism.
“This is a good first step in the right direction,” said Hanif Mohebi, executive director of San Diego’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It will be much easier now to work with school districts to provide a safe place for all students to learn.”
San Diego’s legislative delegation largely supported the bill, although Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, did not vote, and Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, voted no.
“Religious bullying of any faith is wrong, and I would have supported a bill that was inclusive of all faiths,” Anderson said in a statement issued by his staff.