Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unequal Treatment

George Washington University has decided to discriminate against male students, faculty and staff. No, not in the usual way, but in a religiously motivated way. It has decided to have a special swim hour for women only based on the religion of the students, Islam. (h/t Weasel Zippers)
When Zainah Khan packed for GW last year, she left her swimsuit behind.

The Saudi Arabian native knew she wouldn't be able to swim in the Lerner Health and Wellness Center because it is open to both male and female students.
Note that Khan is not a Arab name, much less a Saudi name. It is an Indian name. She is obviously not Saudi, but an immigrant from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Note also that Saudi women are required to wear the abaya and niquab in public, not just a headscarf that she wears in her photo. So her "modesty" is not the reason for women only swim hours, but the imposition of Islamic law on Americans. She is also seen in public without a male relative, another violation of her modesty and Saudi law.

If she donned a bathing suit in HelWell, the sophomore would risk being seen without her hijab - a headscarf worn by some Muslim women in public - and in immodest clothing, which goes against the basic tenants of her religion.

But this fall, Khan and other female followers of the Islam religion have the opportunity to dive in.

Last week, the Muslim Students' Association and the University opened up "Sisters' Splash," a female-only hour at the pool.

Every week, GW plans to close the HelWell pool to men and will cover the glass door with a dark tarp, giving female Muslim students the chance to swim at their leisure. The University also hired a female lifeguard to be on duty for each week's event.

Aliya Karim, the social chair of the MSA's women's group, said the organization made the effort to coordinate the swimming hour so fellow Muslims would feel comfortable in the pool.

"Personally, I would only want to go when just girls are there," Karim, who is also a Hatchet photographer, said.

Rahiba Noor, a junior who serves as the community service chair of the MSA, said that prior to attending GW, swimming laps at a private pool was an important part of her health regimen. At school, however, Noor said she's resigned herself to staying away from the water and using a treadmill.

"Religious values always define us," Noor said. "Although I wouldn't really mind, it would be satisfying to me religiously to swim only with girls."

For some Muslims, being in public without a hijab puts them at odds with fundamental aspects of Islam.

Khan said to swim in a pool where men could see her, she would have to cover her entire body, including wearing something over her head.

"You could swim around men, but it would be hard, it would be a hassle," Khan said.
Valdez Williams, the operations manager of the gym, said the University helped the MSA coordinate the weekly swim hour because GW wanted to make the girls feel comfortable. "At GW, we try to take care of all of our students," Williams said. "As long as it's requested and works within our policies and procedures, we will generally accommodate them."

Williams said the University would try to schedule one hour each week for the female students to have private access.

"The girls should be able to swim here," Williams said. "We will not penalize them because of their religious beliefs."
Very cute, but besides the obvious violation of journalistic ethics where they write a story about their own employee, there is another problem. The special swim hour is illegal. It is a violation of various civil rights statutes enforced by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Schools who receive federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or religion on access to or use of their facilities.
To wit:
The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.We serve student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems. An important responsibility is resolving complaints of discrimination. Agency-initiated cases, typically called compliance reviews, permit OCR to target resources on compliance problems that appear particularly acute. OCR also provides technical assistance to help institutions achieve voluntary compliance with the civil rights laws that OCR enforces. An important part of OCR's technical assistance are partnerships designed to develop creative approaches to preventing and addressing discrimination.

The Office for Civil Rights enforces several Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. Discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; sex discrimination is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and age discrimination is prohibited by the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. These civil rights laws enforced by OCR extend to all state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries, and museums that receive U.S. Department of Education funds. Areas covered may include, but are not limited
to: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing, and employment. OCR also has responsibilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (prohibiting disability discrimination by public entities, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance). In addition, as of January 8, 2002, OCR enforces the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act (Section 9525 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001). Under the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, no public elementary school or State or local education agency that provides an opportunity for one or more outside youth or community groups to meet on school premises or in school facilities before or after school hours shall deny equal access or a fair opportunity to meet to, or discriminate against, any group officially affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, or any other youth group listed in Title 36 of the United States Code as a patriotic society.
And from the infamous CRD:

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of race, color,
religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. The Department of Justice can bring a lawsuit under Title II when there is reason to believe that a person has engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of Title II. The Department can obtain injunctive, but not monetary, relief in such cases. Individuals can also file suit to enforce their rights under Title II and other federal and state statutes may also provide remedies for discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Now just imagine if GWU had a policy of men's only swim hours for Christian men who did not want to be subject to the temptation of scantily dressed women. Of course no university or other place of public accommodation would even consider such a policy, but for women and Muslims, that is justified. The only question is whether Barak Hussein Obama will see that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed.

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