New Jersey School District Grapples With Demand For Official Holiday For Eid al-Adha

SchoolClassroomThere is a new conflict over religious rights in public education in New Jersey where Muslim families demanded an official holiday for Eid al-Adha. The meeting erupted when the school board refused to create such a holiday just six days before Eid al-Adha, which would have required thousands to families to scramble to find accommodations for their children. It also raises the slippery slope of adopting some religious holidays and not others. For example, the Jewish community noted that their families do not have official holidays for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The confrontations raises the question of why public schools should create religious holidays as opposed to giving students excused absences for such holidays, which New Jersey does.

One Muslim mother is heard declaring that “We’re going to be the majority soon!” That comment embodies the very point cited by both supporters and critics. On one hand, the community is calling for the simple recognition of a dominant religious holiday in this community. They insist that community control over schools means that large segments of the population should be accommodated on such question. Moreover, this was not such a controversy, they suggest, when the holidays were Christian.

On the other hand, critics insist that it is not about the majority getting what it wants in terms of elevating their own religious holidays over others. Indeed, the first amendment is designed first and foremost to protect minorities from majoritarian discrimination. There are also the entanglement issues raised by certain religious holidays being favored over others. Unless one adopts the “majority is always right” to impose a favored religion, the school would have to recognize holidays for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and other faiths.

For many of us, it makes better constitutional and practical sense to allow excused absences. Of course, this leaves the issue of “Christmas” holidays. However, those holidays are increasingly disassociated with Christianity and rarely are called “Christmas” holiday. Instead, the holiday comes at the end of the year and is carried through the New Year. Easter holidays are virtually gone and even “Halloween parties” have been reconfigured as “Harvest celebrations” to avoid even attenuated reference to anything religious.

What is interesting is that various leaders including Jewish leaders expressed an interest in adding the holiday for next year. Rabbi Debra Hachen of Jersey City’s Temple Beth-El, the city’s largest Jewish congregation, said “I personally plan to offer my assistance to the Muslim community to bring this up during the school year so that it can be discussed and considered fully in time to be incorporated into next year’s school calendar. Our community is fully in support of religious freedom of expression and understands the desire of our Muslim friends and neighbors to have the schools closed for Eid El-Adha.” It is a position that raises the issue of accommodation of other faiths and whether this is simply a question of the majority religion in a given district.

The controversy in New Jersey is illustrative of a common view that religious freedom means the right to impose religious values supported by the majority. The Kim Davis controversy reflects that same claim of entitlement in an official insisting that she has a right to impose her religious litmus test in carrying out ministerial functions as a clerk. The classic civil libertarian position is that true religious freedom is protected by neutrality by the government. The fear is that this all becomes little more than a muscle play. The insular minorities of yesterday become the dominant majorities of today.

Yet, in fairness to those calling for this holiday, The city has already established this holiday and Diwali as city holidays. Dawali is the Indian festival of lights. One can argue that schools are part of communities and can accommodate and recognize the holidays that are most important to those communities. After all, if the vast majority of students are taking leave for the holidays, it is argued that it makes more sense to simply declare a holiday for everyone.

It is a fascinating line to draw, though from a constitutional standpoint there is always unease in the government enforcing a holiday tied to a particular religion. This has long been the case with Christian holidays but, as discussed above, those official holidays were long contested on separation grounds.

What do you think?

106 thoughts on “New Jersey School District Grapples With Demand For Official Holiday For Eid al-Adha”

  1. Isn’t it interesting that once something legally enters the public domain, various groups vie for special privileges to accommodate their desires. If their is a Christmas Holliday, other religious groups then demand a similar accommodation if theirs does not match the same time period. I can’t really blame them either.

    Job discrimination and the resultant affirmative action legislation is another example. These are examples of the negative ramifications of all social policy and why it often times causes more problems then it solves. Reverse discrimination then became a result of the system requiring in some instances the lowering of testing standards to fit the required hiring quotas.

    How many current special interest groups are there that are currently trying to affect our political process in some manner? Sadly those with the most money or the largest unions wins.

    I think it is interesting that the two largest contributors to the Democratic Party have historically been the Public school teachers and the American Trial Lawyers.

    It does not appear that Public Education has provided our society the social benefits that it initially intended and the negative ramification are huge. But let’s not talk about them.

  2. Sometimes it helps to give holidays in the event that many teachers will call out. Being the second largest Jewish settlement outside of the NYC area, Baltimore had to do that. County and city schools give off for Jewish holidays. Some schools saw near 20% teacher call-out rates on such days. Many saw around 10%. That’s a lot to try to cover with substitutes… Then, of course, you have all of the students who might have to make up work. It’s sometimes easier to just close schools for a religious holiday if opening will cause bigger issues.

  3. PhillyT

    One of my grandfathers helped organize a particular union after WWI and was very active in that union all of his life. He paid his dues in more ways than one. He and his contemporaries really made life better for those who later worked in that profession.

  4. Binge and purge, just like so many US women. Never saw unions described as bulimic. Then why are the leaders always obese men? Trumka needs to seriously consider salads.

  5. The history of unions in America is a long and very complex one. There were two great purges of the unions, one in the twenties and one in the fifties. Both times were done in the name of chasing commies, both were in fact purges of the intellectual and moral leaders of the unions. The result both time was the rise of the criminal element (think Jimmy Hoffa), the exact result that J.Edgar and the corporate class were hoping for. So the unions have been following that pendulum–fighting for the workers and works’ rights, followed by an aggregation of power, followed by a purge, followed by corrupt leadership, followed by a loss of respect and power, and so on.

    And yes, while there was cheating in Georgia, it’s nothing compared to what the charters do. Not even close.

    power to the people

  6. Yes. Those Burka kids need their own Muslim Charter School. The King of Saudi Arabia could kick in sme money. They have already emailed back and forth on this issue. I oughta know– its on Cloud Nine as we speak.

  7. If they get excused absences, what’s the issue… other than imposing their religious practices on the school system? Is there some reason they can’t start their own charter school with whatever holidays they choose?

    1. “”

      Excused absence sounds reasonable. But I wonder if there are any complications or limitations that might limit the usefulness. For example, is there a limit on the number of excused absences a student can take. Is the procedure any more complicated than having a parent write a note; should that even be necessary.

      Perhaps others know if excused absence is a reasonable solution or are their complications that might make it difficult or uncomfortable for for a student to actually use that alternative.

  8. Chinggis think it much easier to pillage and plunder if no unions. Just like steak easier to eat if no onions. If steak is burned unions should be burned at the steak. Except PhillyT steak, who is only member of middle class after unions gone. Need more Pinkertons.

  9. To: Donald No Trump Duck. We had a trumpin duck here at the marina where the dogpac lives. This trumpin duck would just not shut up and he quacked and trumped all night long. The other ducks pushed him out of the area. In America our politics is now dominated on the RepubliCon side by a trumpin duck. The media seems to impose him on us at all hours of the day. Not only the voice but the ugly puss. It is time for America to stand up to the media. The media, be it CNN, Fox, Chuck Todd on Sunday morning show, or other, seems determined to inform our decisions. So all week long they denigrate Hillary the 8th, The Donald, and now Dr. Ben. I think they want what the Koch Brothers want. They also want some coke and I am not speaking of soda. Chuck Todd called Snowden a traitor so he must have been high on coke and it was provided by the Koch Brothers. Scotty boy just got out of the race and he has been playing a race card of his own for years. So the Koch Brothers’ boy is out and I am not sure who their gambit guy is right now.

    I think we should know which of the candidates smoke tobacco. I would not vote for any dog who smokes. Farts are natural. Not out of the mouth like Cruz or The Donald. But tobacco smokers went in dumb and come out dumb too. Guns are quicker. I know that Obumbo smokes but he is trying to quit. I think we should also know if any of them are bad drunks. And finally if any are getting senile. Jumpin Joe Biden should get a senility test publish the results. Same with Cruz. Age is not always the factor.

  10. Lots of great public schools – in the suburbs. It suggests that poverty is a big factor in failing schools AND an affluent tax base builds good schools.

  11. How come no one refers to The Donald as Donald Duck? I think we need a pro Donald organization which is called

  12. I think that someone should raise the Muslim holiday issue with The Donald. And, Ben Carson. And Bushie boy. And Hillary The 8th.

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