Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Mayor Bloomberg fights against the observance of religious holidays in public schools

The New York City Council last week voted to add two Muslim holidays to the city’s public school calendar, citing the annual observance of Christian and Jewish holidays. Mayor Bloomberg objects, saying the city isn’t obligated to accommodate all faiths: “If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school.” Who’s right? In a country with so many faiths, should public schools observe any religious holidays?

The three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Should our secular public schools favor Christianity or Judaism over Islam? Absolutely not. Should our public schools favor religion over non-religion? Absolutely not. Should a day of learning be denied to all in order to please a special interest (religious) group? Again, absolutely not.

I have no problem with a student’s requesting an excused absence for religious reasons, though schoolwork missed should be made up. Freedom of conscience means that individuals have the right to play favorites, but the government has no such right.

Groups that seek accommodations based on their number of adherents are probably unaware that there are more nontheists in the United States, and in New York City, than there are Jews and Muslims combined. (A large percentage of Jews, myself included, are also secular.) Many secularists celebrate Darwin Day, which is a day to learn in school, not a day to stay away.

When I was a student, our public schools were actually closed on Darwin’s birthday, though the February 12 closing was really to celebrate the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Two great men, literally born on the same day, have accomplishments well worth remembering. But I agree with the decision to reduce presidential honoring to one day, called “President’s Day,” rather than to close school on birthdays for Lincoln, Washington, and who knows how many others would follow.

Yes, there may be a conflict between academic requirements and family religious celebrations. Welcome to the real world. Balancing personal needs and work is part of life. What is not part of life is to expect everyone else to accommodate and be inconvenienced by your beliefs.

Our public schools are under constant attack from a lot of pressure groups. Religious forces have been trying to water down science education at least since the time of Darwin. A deadly combination for our public schools is the unholy alliance of religion and politics. Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, a leader of the campaign to add Muslim holidays to the New York City school calendar, said it all: “We really have confidence in the mayor’s intelligence. It’s an election year.”

Perhaps Imam Talib doesn’t recognize the difference between intelligence and political pandering. I would like Mayor Bloomberg to place Islam on an equal footing with Judaism and Christianity, which also is what Imam Talib wants to see. But my hope is that the equal footing would be to accommodate none of the religions with school holidays, which is definitely not what Imam Talib wants to see.

Photo Courtesy of: Hobvias Sudoneighm 

Herb Silverman
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  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    But my hope is that the equal footing would be to accommodate none of the religions with school holidays, which is definitely not what Imam Talib wants to see.But, again, I agree that we have to get rid of them all. Right now Christmas and Easter cost us two full weeks, ten days of classes.Next proposed holiday: Dream Day for a Secular American Society

  • spencer1

    The answer is very simple – public schools should observe NO religious holidays. They should, however, observe seasonal holidays, spaced more or less evenly throughout the school year. Religions are free to accommodate themselves to these holidays as they wish. Students should be allowed a small number of “personal absences” every year, which they can use for any reason, including religious reasons.

  • jonesm2

    I heartily agree with Professor Silverman on this issue. Personal responsibility requires that each person balance issues of this sort without wreaking havoc on the lives of others. I am all in favor of removing religious holidays from the school calendar and requiring that individuals who choose to miss class be responsible for the work.

  • drkavehparsi

    I was born into a Muslim family and when I asked “why?” the answer was “This is what Allah said.” When I ask a Jewish or Christian a “Why?” question, I hear similar answer. Religion is the belief without reason. Why do we need our children and their future be built on basless beliefs?

  • maryellensikes

    In theory I agree with the notion that public schools should not be in the business of observing religious holidays. If nothing else, this puts the state in the position of judging the relative importance of various religious occasions. This is not an area where we want or need government opinion.Strict neutrality does present a practical problem, though. In an area where one faith group holds a heavy majority, if their holy days are not accommodated by schools, personal absences for religious reasons are going to be so prevalent that schools will not be able to function for the few children that do show up. Some schools may even have to schedule makeup days because in some states/districts there must be a certain minimum percentage of students present for the day to “count.” I don’t have the answer to this problem, which isn’t always about religion, by the way. In my school district, as recently as 20 years ago the first day of hunting season was a school holiday. Absenteeism had become too high for high schools to meet their quorum, so they stopped trying.

  • Bios

    I agree 100% with Mr. Silverman. But to see religion still trying to shove their club rules wherever they can just makes me sick. This holiday issue and their intent to include creationism in schools is just pathetic.I feel alone, surrounded by fanatics …harrasing, imposing their own agendas; muslims, evangelicals…

  • ZeroTolerance

    Schools are made by the state to indoctrinate children into the adults’ convention of being citizens. Rarely do children are asked to pick their faith or even to abide by the contract of being citizens. Their forced and coerced to become believers and citizens. Parents and the state have ganged up to manipulate what children should think and how they should behave.

  • Igottahavemorecowbell

    Good grief, people! Is the concept of separation of religion and state really that difficult for so many of you to grasp? Of course it isn’t. You enjoy wasting taxpayer’s time and money pushing your particular brand of theocratic idiocy, whether it be with Ten Commandment postings in courtrooms and statehouses, or as in this case, attempting to impose the observance of one religion’s high holy days upon a secular framework. Progressive school districts long ago figured out that the “fixed feast” of Christmas was really a, wink wink, nudge nudge, “Winter Holiday.” What used to be known as “Easter Break” in my youth is a moveable feast. Wise school board members tweak the dates of “Spring Break” annually to accommodate various groups. I am born and bred Cult of Mithras. We have an annual celebration, also a moveable feast, that just happens to coincide with basketball’s March Madness. Now, if someone in government wants to propose that everybody knock off work for the tournament, er, Feast of Mithras, then that pol can count on the full support of the Mithradites in the next election cycle.

  • HumanSimpleton

    Excellent response. Sums up how I feel about the issue, notably”I have no problem with a student’s requesting an excused absence for religious reasons, though schoolwork missed should be made up. Freedom of conscience means that individuals have the right to play favorites, but the government has no such right.”

  • pelicanwatchcb

    In the industrial nation with the worst public schools in the world, I cannot believe someone would seriously be considering creating more days away from school. Most American schools operate 180 days a year. Most schools in developed nations operate 230 to 250 days a year. American schools should be open for business 11 or 12 months out of the year — not looking for new excuses to shut their doors. After we get our schools open year-round, we can begin to experiment with eliminating religious holidays and emphasizing secular holidays: Independence Day, Constitution Day, Darwin Day, etc.