Addressing Discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians: Testimony before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

10 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2013

See all articles by Sahar F. Aziz

Sahar F. Aziz

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Rutgers Law School

Date Written: July 18, 2012


Our nation has a unique, long-cherished commitment to religious freedom. Indeed, the first wave of immigrants came seeking refuge from religious persecution in Europe. The free exercise of religion, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, is a fundamental right guaranteed to all Americans and embodied in the First Amendment to our Constitution. As a result, America has become a diverse nation enriched by its multiple religious communities that practice their faiths freely and peacefully. America’s unique cultural tolerance for religious diversity is due in large part to the enforcement of constitutional rights and statutory laws that protect individuals and congregations from discrimination in public accommodations, education, and employment.

While most people in America voluntarily comply with anti-discrimination laws based on a personal commitment to equality and justice for all, religious bigotry exists in American society. One need only review the increasing number of lawsuits filed by the EEOC over the past ten years. In 1997, religious discrimination lawsuits made up only 2.1% of the EEOC’s docket. By 2010, the rate of discrimination lawsuits increased significantly to 3.8%. Similarly, religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC increased dramatically by 35% from 2001 to 2008. A disproportionate number of religious discrimination charges were filed by employees who wear headscarves, turbans, or beards for religious reasons because these practices carry a stigma that falsely stereotype them as terrorist, disloyal, or suspect.

In the years immediately following the tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there was an upsurge in hatred, violence, and discrimination against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Despite the passage of more than ten years, pervasive discrimination persists due to a variety of factors that directly impact the workplace. For example, media images stereotyping, darkskinned, bearded males with Arabic-sounding names as representing the primary threat to the national security of the United States contribute to racial, national origin, and religious harassment in the workplace. Government selective counter-terrorism practices and policies have institutionalized a policy of discrimination against persons perceived to be Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian on the basis of their name, race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin. The government’s disparate treatment of these communities, based on the pretext of national security, legitimizes workplace harassment. The result is a conflation of the racial Arab or South Asian with the religious category of Muslim coupled with the misperception that Islam is a radical and violent religion. Therefore, efforts aimed at combatting post-9/11 religious discrimination must adopt a holistic approach that rectifies the “bias legitimizing” actions of other government agencies.

Accordingly, my recommendations are as follow:

1. Adopt creative legal theories of liability and use case briefs to educate judges about post-9/11 religious discrimination;

2. Train federal agencies about the adverse workplace consequences of selective law enforcement and immigration enforcement;

3. Train private sector employers about the rise in religious discrimination and how to proactively prevent it;

4. Normalize images of religious minorities in government publications; and

5. Diversify points of contact in outreach to religious communities about their legal rights and remedies.

Keywords: Muslim, Islam, Employment, Employment Discrimination, Post-9/11, 9/11, September 11 Attacks, Terrorism, Arab, South Asian, Sikh, Religion, Religious Discrimination

Suggested Citation

Aziz, Sahar F., Addressing Discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians: Testimony before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (July 18, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Sahar F. Aziz (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States


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