FREMONT, CA–California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), a Hindu-American advocacy organization, and three community members filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court this month against public school officials at the California Department of Education, State Board of Education, and several school districts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
The case challenges the discriminatory treatment of Hinduism in California’s history-social science curriculum and the official endorsement of other religions, based upon the U.S. Constitution, the advocacy group said in a statement.
The curriculum framework adopted by the State Board of Education last summer devotes almost half the discussion of Hinduism to the caste system, which it portrays as a supposed Hindu religious belief. For every other religion, the SBE followed its policy of refusing negative examples that would instill prejudice – there is no mention of negative interpretations of Christianity that supported slavery or condemned same-sex relationships, the statement said.
The Complaint alleges numerous other ways the California curriculum treats Hinduism unfairly and differently from all other religions. Every faith except Hinduism is taught from the perspective of the believer, using the characters, narrative and values of the religion’s teachings. Hinduism is not described with characters and stories and is barely acknowledged as a religion at all.
Arvind Kumar, a Director of CAPEEM said: “It is unfortunate that State Board officials have chosen to single out Hindu children for such negative treatment. We submitted many suggested revisions to the curriculum last year but almost all were refused, leaving us no choice but to bring this case.”
Arti Kapoor of San Ramon is deeply troubled by what is being taught about Hinduism in schools: “As a mother of two children in California public schools and a member of the Hindu community, I have seen the pain and embarrassment the current curriculum causes our families. I hope this lawsuit will force the Department of Education to correct the discrimination we now face.”
Glenn Katon, an Oakland-based civil rights attorney with Katon Law who is representing the plaintiffs, said: “Minority religions deserve fair treatment by the California public school system and it’s clear that this curriculum discriminates against Hindus, which the Constitution does not allow.”
Professor Barbara A. McGraw, who is Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism at Saint Mary’s College, attended most of the hearings leading up to the SBE’s adoption of the curriculum framework. She notes that “California’s public school curriculum has treated Hinduism unfairly for many years, putting so much emphasis on the caste system that it has virtually ignored Hinduism’s many virtues. At the same time the curriculum overlooks social harms related to other religions. This disparity not only does a disservice to Hindus, but to all students.”