Published On: Mon, Feb 13th, 2017

Hinduism in California school curriculum: Civil rights lawsuit filed against state

FREMONT — A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court this week charges that schools in the state discriminate in their portrayal of Hinduism.

The California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials, also known as CAPEEM, and three Bay Area residents filed the lawsuit to challenge California’s history-social science curriculum. They say the curriculum appears to highlight the positive aspects of other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Confucianism, but does not provide the same treatment of Hinduism.

The lawsuit was filed against the state Department of Education, state Board of Education and several school districts throughout the Bay Area. It also names the San Ramon Valley, Cupertino, Milpitas and San Francisco school districts, at which the CAPEEN has members with children attending.

Although Hindu-American groups declared victory in their campaign to get the Board of Education to use the term “Ancient India” instead of “South Asia” this summer, more work needs to be done in making the state’s social science framework and curriculum less discriminatory toward Hinduism, said Glenn Katon, an attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Hindu-American group.

The state board’s adopted curriculum still devotes almost half the discussion of Hinduism to the caste system, he said. But for every other religion, the board has followed a policy of refusing to include negative examples that would instill prejudice, he alleged. For instance, there is no mention of negative interpretations of Christianity that supported slavery or condemned same-sex relationships, he said.

“Hinduism is portrayed from a critical perspective, so I guess really what we’re asking for, is just be consistent,” he said.

Also, the adopted framework says “that the caste system is a religious belief of Hinduism, but that’s highly debatable…,” he said. “And it’s obviously highly negative and would embarrass and shame people who hold that religion.”

The complaint further alleges other ways the California curriculum treats Hinduism unfairly and differently from all other religions.

“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,” said Arti Kapoor of San Ramon in a statement issued by CAPEEM. “I hope this lawsuit will force the Department of Education to correct the discrimination we now face.”

The state Department of Education declined to comment. And San Ramon Valley school district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said her district could not comment either because it hadn’t had time to review the lawsuit.

The complaint can be found at Complaint2017.pdf.

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