US teacher files defamation suit over 'misunderstanding' on hijab removal: NYT

US teacher files defamation suit over 'misunderstanding' on hijab removal: NYT
A New Jersey teacher has filed a defamation suit over what she describes as a "misunderstanding," when she says she lifted the hood of her student to see her eyes, but the student says she removed her hijab. A Jewish rights group is funding the suit.
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
20 October, 2022
An elementary school student wearing a hijab became upset after an interaction with her teacher. [Getty]

An elementary school teacher in New Jersey is suing a Muslim Olympian and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, claiming that they defamed her when they said she forcibly removed the hijab of her second-grade student, which the teacher says is inaccurate, according to an article this week by the New York Times.

The disputed incident occurred last year at a time when schools were starting to reopen for in-person learning after the previous year's spike in covid cases. 

According to the teacher, Tamar Herman, the student was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood covering her eyes, which Herman lifted up to see her face. However, Herman claimed that as soon as she saw the hood was the girl's only head covering that day, she quickly withdrew, realising her mistake.

The student and her family, on the other hand, said the teacher forcibly removed the girl's hijab, embarrassing her in front of her classmates and leaving her upset enough to share the story with her mother, who subsequently shared the story on Facebook. From there, Ibtihaj Muhammed, an Olympic medalist in fencing, shared the story with her more than 300,000 followers on Instagram. 

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This was followed by outrage and mass protests at the school, requiring students to take different entrances, according to the Times. It also resulted in Herman having to take a leave of absence.

As the protests continued, online activists discovered and then highlighted Herman's Jewish faith, resulting in further backlash. 

It is perhaps for this reason that The Lawfare Project, an NGO that, according to its website, focuses on defending the civil and human rights of Jewish people and fighting discrimination. 

Commenting on and sharing the Times article, the group's CEO, Brooke Goldstein, wrote on Twitter, "As the CEO of @LawfareProject, I am proud to support this lawsuit, which exposes how the Council on American Islamic Relations and Ibtihaj Muhammad engaged in a campaign of malicious defamation against an innocent teacher, for the nefarious purposes of spreading a false narrative of Islamophobia and intimidating and dividing the American people, as well as selling copies of a book! We look forward to achieving justice for our client." 

These are possibly not the allies Herman would have wanted, given her reported commitment to inclusion of Muslim culture in the classroom, as reported by parents and colleagues, some of whom have noted that she has used picture books that include girls wearing hijabs.

After the lawsuit was noted in the Times, CAIR told The New Arab that the entities at CAIR named in the suit had not been served, which would be relatively unusual for it to first be reported in the Times.

For now, they are only sharing their official statement on the matter, which reads, "We cannot yet comment on this filing, which our legal counsel must review. However, we continue to strongly stand by this student, who had the clear constitutional right to cover her hair for religious reasons without physical interference or humiliation."