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Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics

image title: title ix religious exemptionThe civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) protect all students, regardless of religious identity, from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. None of the laws that OCR enforces expressly address religious discrimination. However, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) protects students of any religion from discrimination, including harassment, based on a student’s actual or perceived:

  • shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or
  • citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.

For example, OCR can investigate complaints that students were subjected to ethnic or ancestral slurs; harassed for how they look, dress, or speak in ways linked to ethnicity or ancestry (e.g. skin color, religious attire, language spoken); or stereotyped based on perceived shared ancestral or ethnic characteristics. Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh students are examples of individuals who may be harassed for being viewed as part of a group that exhibits both ethnic and religious characteristics.

Other federal agencies enforce laws that expressly prohibit religious discrimination by schools, colleges, and universities. For example, complaints of religious discrimination in employment can be brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in housing (including dormitories) to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and by public schools and colleges to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).


Policy Guidance
Learn about different types of guidance documents, including how to comment on significant guidance.


Other OCR Resources


Examples of OCR Case Resolutions Involving Religious Discrimination Claims

• Nauset Public Schools, MA (01-19-1320)
• Fremont Unified School District, CA (09-13-5001)
• Henrico County Public Schools, VA (11-10-1244)
• Huntington Beach City School District, CA (09-14-1437)
• Minneapolis Public Schools, MN (05-13-1202)
• Owatonna Public Schools, MN (05-10-1148)
• Polk County School District, FL (04-14-1664)
• St. Cloud Area School District, MN (05-10-1146)
• Vestal Central School District, NY (02-11-1270)
• Whittier College, CA (09-11-2013)
• Kyrene School District, AZ (08-19-1367)
• University of Vermont and State Agricultural College, VT (01-22-2002)

Last Modified: 05/25/2023