Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Religious Holidays and School Closings

Recently a Broward School District Diversity Committee meeting argued about the appropriateness of cancelling school for two Islamic holidays next academic year. The meeting did not go well – police were called in to keep the peace. The Council on American Islamic Relations asked the board to close schools on Eid-ul-Adha and, the end of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, which fall on school days in October and late August. Joe Kaufman, chairman of the ironically named Americans Against Hate, charged those supporting the proposal with “cultural jihad” against our Judeo-Christian nation.

Maybe we take the singular form “Freedom of Religion” too seriously. The government of the United States has a responsibility to all citizens, not just Christians, not just Jews. Instead, if the separation of church and state does not preclude religious holidays in public schools, we should establish objective criteria to determine when it is appropriate for a county to close schools on religious grounds. Let simple numbers make the decision. Continue to close schools on the non-federal holidays Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, as Broward County has every year since 2007, because the population of Jewish and Christian children warrants it. And unless the numbers change, keep schools open on Prophet al-Khader’s Day – an important day in the Druze religion. In Broward there are now roughly 18,000 Islamic children under eighteen and none of them have to go to school on the day Jesus was crucified. Furthermore, consistency requires this apply not only to the “Big 3” Abrahamic religions but any religion surpassing an objective population criteria, whether it be Druze, Buddhism, or Zoroastrianism.

                  Or we can close schools for only federal holidays and semester breaks. Cut out the need to establish objective criteria, cut out the opportunity to play favorites – to exalt one religion over another in a country that was founded on the freedom to believe whatever you want sans fear of persecution. To defend a constitution where church and state are supposed to operate autonomously. We can stop pretending our Founding Fathers were beacons of Evangelical orthodoxy – Thomas Jefferson excised all miracles from the bible. It’s difficult to maintain the absolutely necessary Evangelical belief that Jesus was the fully divine-fully human Son of God who rose from the dead if miracles are off the table.

                  Keeping schools open on all religious holidays is not a slight against religious belief. We either need objective population-based criteria deciding religious holiday school closings or we should leave them all off the academic calendar.