Hate Crimes at School: News Roundup

Schools were all over the news this week, for reasons both good and bad. Cambridge schools were noticed for adding a Muslim holiday to their calendar, while in New York, four teens were charged with hate crimes after they beat and mocked a Muslim classmate. All that plus the Church of Body Modification, a study (as always!) on Americans’ views of God and additional interesting links in this week’s roundup. 

Hate Crimes in a NYC School
“A Muslim boy says four bullies made his life a living hell in the halls of a Staten Island public school, calling him a "terrorist" and beating him every chance they got,” reports the New York Daily News.
 
Sixteen-year-old Kristian endured a year of near-daily beatings at the hands of his tormentors, but kept silent out of fear that telling a teacher would result in more violence from his classmates. He finally spoke up after learning that two of the same students were scheduled to be in his class the following year. (AP) New York City police arrested three 14-year-olds and one 15-year-old, charging them with assault and aggravated harassment as hate crimes. (Daily Mail)
 
Kristian’s family is planning to file a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education alleging that at least one teacher knew about the violence and did nothing to prevent it. “"Once they're made aware that he's being hit or being bullied or there's a foreseeable harm to him, they then have a specific duty to protect him. They failed to provide a safe educational environment for him and he lived in fear every day," said the victim's attorney, Jonathan D'Agostino.” (NY 1)
 
In one case, a teacher failed to discipline the assailants when she couldn't find security or an assistant principal; in another, the teacher gave a simple verbal reprimand says the New York Daily News. “"This kind of thing happens all the time here," said one teacher. "It's swept under the rug."” (New York Daily News)
 
The parents have met with officials to discuss having Kristian transferred to a different school, a “safety transfer.”
 
Eid School Closing in Cambridge
Better news comes out of the Cambridge, Massachusetts school district, where officials have decided to close schools for one Muslim holiday each year, beginning next year – a first in Massachusetts.
 
“"This isn’t about terrorism, this isn’t about 9/11, this is about a strong vibrant community in Cambridge that deserves to have a day recognized in the same way that we recognize two of the other major religions in the city,” said Cambridge School Committee Vice Chairman Marc McGovern. City officials said the schools will either close for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, or Eid al-Adha, known as the Festival of Sacrifice.” (WCVB TV, Boston)
 
““At a time when I think the Muslim population is being characterized with a broad brush in a negative way, I think it’s important for us to say we’re not going to do that here,’’ McGovern said.” (Boston Globe)
 
Battle of the Church of Body Modification
Ariana Iacono, age 14, wears a nose ring and has been suspended from schools four times (missing a total of 19 days) because of her school’s no-piercing policy. The catch? Ariana and her mother belong to a religious group called the Church of Body Modification, which believes that piercings, tattoos and other adornments are a way of expressing their faith.
 
““The dress code policy allows for a religious exemption, and I explained to the principal and various school officials how my daughter’s nose stud is essential to the expression of our family’s religious values. Ariana had gotten excellent grades in middle school, but now she is in danger of flunking out of her freshman year of high school because the principal won’t let her back in class unless she removes her nose stud or covers it up, which is asking her to hide her religion,” stated her mother, Nikki.” (Wall Street Journal) The ACLU jumped on board, filing a lawsuit against the school district.
 
This week, a federal court judge ordered that Ariana be allowed back to school, finding that Ariana and her mother were likely to prevail on their lawsuit. (Boston Globe, The Herald)
 
Around the Web
  • USA Today reports on a new study detailing Americans’ views of the divine and how those views impact our views on moral and social issues.
  • A Georgetown University theologian writes on the religious dimension of the Israel-Palestine negotiations in the Washington Post.
  • A convention of atheists debates how aggressively to confront the religiously devout, as told in the Los Angeles Times.