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