Meditations on Reverse Religious Discrimination


 

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Shaping Thoughts

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).

Seeking Peace

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).

Liberating Insight

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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