The Buddha said “what you think, you become.” That’s not the case when talking about civil rights law.
When a Georgia school teacher, and practicing Christian, incorporated yoga and meditation techniques into her classroom, she was mistakenly labelled a Buddhist by several angry parents who claimed she was indoctrinating their children with Buddhist teachings. Some went so far as to hold a prayer rally “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism,” and two laid their hands on her office window in prayer (try meditating with that going on outside).
Ultimately, despite a 33% drop in disruptive behavior in the teacher’s classroom, the school concluded it couldn’t keep the peace in the school district without moving her to a lower-performing school, adding an hour to her commute. That’s when she decided to bring a reverse discrimination suit against the school under Title VII, claiming that she had been discriminated against. As a Buddhist.
While the court called her argument “innovative,” the teacher didn’t find the relief she was looking for. The school district never actually claimed she was a Buddhist—only parents—and she couldn’t impute a discriminatory motive onto the school (although the parents’ opinions were clearly a factor in the school’s decision).
Even if the school had actually claimed she were a Buddhist, it’s questionable that the teacher would have won her case. In the Eleventh Circuit, at least, successful discrimination claims based on a perceived religion are totally unprecedented. As a Christian, the teacher simply isn’t a member of a class Title VII was enacted to protect.
For now, the teacher will have to seek a different path if she hopes to recover from the school district. But, for exposing the limits of Title VII, her case is truly enlightening.
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