The other Islam controversy in NYC

Muslim students in New York City are already permitted to stay home on their religious holidays without penalty, but the current campaign is to give all students a day off for Muslim religious holidays.

On the eve of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, two major debates around Muslims rights are taking place in New York City. One about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” the other over whether to include Muslim holidays, including the post-Ramadan celebration, Eid-ul-Fitr, in the public school calendar.

Last September, a broad coalition of religious, labor and immigrant groups began pressing New York City officials to close all public schools during two important Muslim holy days. The advocates have asked that Eid Ul-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and Eid Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, be recognized on the academic calendar of the school district as official holidays for all students.

Muslim students in New York City are already permitted, and have the constitutional right, to stay home on their religious holidays without incurring a penalty. There is no harm in the government recognizing the religious diversity among public school students and accommodating the observance of those beliefs. The current campaign, however, is to give all students–regardless of religious affiliation–a day off for Muslim religious holidays.

The push for school closings on the two holy days is a result of the growing Muslim population, roughly 600,000 in New York City, resulting in over 100,000 Muslims students in the city’s school district, or 10-12 percent of its student body. On June 29th, the New York City Council passed a nonbinding resolution that calls for the addition of the two holidays into the school calendar.

Mayor Bloomberg, who has the final say to designate the days off, has opposed the measure, insisting that the city’s children need to be in school more, not less. He has also argued that the recognition of two Muslim holidays would open the door for other religious groups to demand their religious holidays be recognized as well. Such a case would, as Bloomberg states, eventually lead to an inadequate number of school days. Currently, 4 in 10 New York City students graduate on time and 1 in 10 drop out. Bloomberg is hesitant to give more days off unless there exist “a very large number of kids who practice,” which would result in administrative difficulties on such days.

Advocates for school closings on Muslim holidays argue that because Jews and Christians have their holidays recognized, so should Muslims. In other words, recognizing other religious holidays celebrated by a substantial number of students without also recognizing Muslim holidays despite Muslims composing 10-12% of New York City students constitutes government “endorsement” of Christianity and Judaism.

This argument is reminiscent of those often made under the Establishment Clause–and is equally dangerous for religious freedom. The reason it is dangerous is that it creates an all or nothing conflict — either recognize all holidays or none — that is most likely to result in the recognition of none. Arguing for recognition under the endorsement principle would most likely result in a secularized calendar instead of a calendar with additional religious accommodations. In other words, the endorsement argument ultimately hurts the cause of protecting a space for vibrant religious expression in the public sphere.

Consider, for example, a school in Hillsborough County, Florida where Muslims requested the school close for Muslim holiday, arguing that closing for Christian and Jewish holidays and not for Muslims ones constituted government favoritism of some religions over others. The result of the request was a secularized calendar that kept schools open on holidays like Good Friday and Christmas.

The push for school closings on Muslim holidays should occur under some other rubric. For example, some schools in Dearborn, Michigan have closed schools for Muslim holidays because the student body is nearly half Muslim. The premise is not government endorsement of Christianity and Judaism but the practical impossibilities of a functioning school day with half of the student body missing.

The school calendar in U.S. public schools is typically tied to traditional Protestant holidays, largely as a result of schools accommodating a religious practice in order to avoid administrative difficulties during such holidays. New York City has adjusted its school calendar with the transforming milieu of its city. For instance, Jewish holidays were enacted during the 1960s because Jews represented 33% of the New York City student body as well as 45% of the faculty. The number of absentees was substantial enough to justify closing schools for the sake of efficiency.

The question, then, is whether Muslims present a substantial enough portion of the student body to merit a change to the academic calendar for reasons of administrability. After all, what would stop members of other religions from claiming “endorsement” of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam if the two Eid holidays result in school closings? There is no logical stopping point between the two arguments if one pays no attention to the issue of administrability. This factual question should remain central to the debate, as opposed to constitutional claims about the establishment of religion.


Image via Shutterstock.

Asma Uddin
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  • VirginiaConservative

    Interesting. Greg Gutman is soliciting investors to open an islamic gay bar next to the mosque.I wonder how that will be received? Its ironic, to say the least, that the islamics murder gays; Christians just disapprove – yet who gets protested?I would think this mosque would be ground zero for homosexual and woman’s rights protests.What do ya think?I think Breitbart’s 100k would be safe and sound betting against that, too.

  • quatsch

    … you didn’t mention what percent of the NYC school-age population is made up of Jews or Christians. Rather a glaring contextualization oversight, to my mind. According to Wikipedia, the Jewish population apparently peaked in the 1950s at only 25% overall (not school-age); I’m not up to looking up the census records for the current values right now, but I’d be interested to see them if someone else feels like digging for 10-15 minutes.(Plus, 1 link to Reuters and 2 links to the same article from Fox make me uncomfortable. More citations from more diverse places would be nice.)I know you don’t get paid for this and you’re not a journalist, but that’s all the more reason to try to find a good proofreader or two (and this is true of everyone writing in this section).

  • uptownk

    Why not? We respect the Christian and Jewish faiths why not the Islamic one. And let us remember that the Islamic faith until recently was among the most tolerant in all the known world … Crusades, Inquisition.

  • Observer20

    Islam has a special burden that other religions to not have. Over 3000 innocent

  • Muddy_Buddy_2000

    Actually our forefathers did NOT put eitherinto the mix. These were both added in the fifties as openly propaganda effort to show how we were different from the Commies in that we have religion and religious freedom. They were not there for the vast majority of our history because they remembered the Constitution for a while after the 1st Amendment was written and approved.

  • Muddy_Buddy_2000

    BTW I demand that NYC add Wiccan holidays at once!!! That gets us the Halloween, Winter and Summer soloists, and equinoxes. I suspect that NYC already gets Dec 23 off, since Christmas was put in Winter, instead of August when Christ was born, to cover than pagan holiday during the Christian Conquest of Europe, but Easter moves around for reasons which escape me, so its misses the Spring Celebration…Note if you look at the Woefully briefAug – 6 days is a godless month in many respects And this is from a calendar with only the really big world religions which are represented fairly well in the USAIt ignores even the Major Native American faiths, and several others of good size.So if we start honoring all, we will never get anything done.

  • StJamesGirl

    I grew up in New York City and every Septermber we were out of schoole on Yom Kipur and other Jewish holidays. I’m not Jewish and didn’t have the option to go to school even if my parents wanted me to. Why should it be any different for Muslim children? Why should they have to miss a day or 2 of schooling to celebrate their holidays while everyone else is in school learning? Its not fair and Bloomberg knows it. Either you give the muslim children equal treatment and close school for the 2 days or take away the Jewish and Christian holidays and make everyone equal under the law.

  • dummypants

    give me a break – the muslims pushing for this (hopefully not all of them) need to take a walk. the calander is filled up with religious holidays which have morphed into part of American secular culture. if muslims wanted their holidays recognized in the school calander they should have gotten here sooner by about 200 years. and we’re not going to start taking jewish holidays off the calander (which may not be as cemented in the secular culture) just to squeeze muslim holidays in. and we’re not going to take jewish holidays off the calander just to make muslims feel equal.

  • dummypants

    Either you give the muslim children equal treatment and close school for the 2 days or take away the Jewish and Christian holidays and make everyone equal under the lawthat is a flawed argument from a constitutional perspective. otherwise, buddhists, hindus, etc. etc. would have blazed this path long ago. what if mormons had 20 holy days and muslims only 10? Is “equal” having ALL of each religions holiday’s recognized? Or is it having the same number of holidays recognized, even if it means recognizing all muslim holidays but only half of mormon ones? In the first case, being equal doesnt mean some religions get more holidays, and in the second case being equal still allows the school to ignore holidays of one religion while recognizing all those of another religion.Besides, we’re talking about equality of results now, and that is not what equal protection under the law is.

  • ThishowIseeit

    It must be noted that not all so-called religions are equal: you will never find in the teachings of Jesus anything but love, compassion and forgiveness, but you will find in the Qu’ran orders to convert or be suject to a tax and many other barbarian orders.

  • chadborman

    ThishowIseeit wrote:Yes, you’re point is a good one. If you look back in history you’ll never see Christianity used to justify murder and war. Oh, I almost forgot about the last 2,000 years (too many wars to count and that era Christians would like to everyone forget, “The Crusades”)

  • Tariq_Asam_NY

    Responding to: dummypants | August 11, 2010 2:05 PM

  • Tariq_Asam_NY

    Responding to: dummypants | August 11, 2010 2:05 PM You are ignorant and arrogant at the same time. Learn some humility and remember the days when may less fortunate minorities were not given equal recognition based on the argument like yours. If you belong to such a sect who now lives in the upper echelon of the society, extend the same privilege and courtesy to the one still living in the lower deck.

  • Rationalista

    Tying school vacation days to religion–any religion–is ridiculous. Let those who want to be absent because of their religious duties at home be absent–the world will go on without them, and that’s the way it should be. U.S. school children are off all summer because farm kids used to be needed to plant and bring in crops. Another anachronism. It would be most practical to take a break from school when it is most hot (July/August) and most cold (Jan./Feb). Doing that would cut down on utilities and get the schools out of the business of deciding whose religion matters most.

  • edzed

    Religious holidays should be abolished. Let the children of different religions take off without penalty on their days and keep the schools in operation. Children need more time in school – not less. Why should they close? The subways continue to run, and business continues to function. Besides, it is not a good idea to give special recognition to superstitious nonsense of whatever kind.

  • slim2

    The state should be under no obligation to recognize any religious holidays. The secularization of schools, begun in the 60s, that has resulted in the almost complete banishment of any religious overtones, even the changing of Christmas to holiday season, should now show these newcomers to America’s shores that the intrusions of their religious superstitions are equally unwelcome in supposedly secular institutions.

  • bluegreen1

    For the love of god and all that is holy, Idul Fitri is a VERY holy day for Muslims. It is the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan where they’ve been fasting from sun up to sun down and a time to come together with friends and families. It is as significant to Muslims as Easter is to Christians or Rosh Hashanah is to Jews. Given the sheer amount of Muslims in the New York school system, it makes sense to add this to the holidays.

  • jameschirico

    Other than Christmas and New Years which have become more secular than religious all religious holidays should be abolished. While new curriculum should not be taught on those days, remedial or beyond curriculum teaching should occur. NYC in the 60s had too many Jewish teachers to staff the schools, not true today. The quality of teachers has declined with the glass ceiing broken giving college educated women other choices.

  • shewholives

    Read Wafa Sultan’s article about Daisy’s Con (Khan).

  • rcubedkc

    The only contreversy regarding muslums that I can think of is why in hell would we allow these backward thinking, mass murdering mongrels into the United States in the first place.It doesn’t matter where they are, muslums are just no damn good.

  • RealTexan1

    The should build a Jewish synagogue next to it. Regardless, I am sure there will be mass protests, maybe singing of Christian hymns in the sidewalk during religious proceedings.

  • ThishowIseeit

    The Crusades are not part of the teaching of Jesus. Ever read the Gospels?

  • overed

    Responding to Tariq_Asam_NY who commented on dummypants and wrote: You are ignorant and arrogant at the same time. Learn some humility and remember the days when may less fortunate minorities were not given equal recognition based on the argument like yours. If you belong to such a sect who now lives in the upper echelon of the society, extend the same privilege and courtesy to the one still living in the lower deck.

  • docwhocuts

    Just make school optional, and call it quits.Put out a schedule, and list of recommended books.Then, tell anyone that doesn’t want to come for whatever reason… they don’t have to.Bet we would save a bundle.Bet education would improve.Class size would go down.violence down…

  • patriot0523

    Folks, the parade is on its way. As shown by many through their studies and experiences, the critical mass of muslims is 10%. Until then, they are peaceful and for all kinds of communal harmony and friendships and everything holy. At 10%, they press hard for muslim this, and muslim that. From there on, it is holidays for their own community, national muslim holidays, sharia laws for them, followed by sharia law for the city, state and then the nation. The final goal is to insist that our country is an Islamic republic under the ultimate Islamic caliphate. If the agitation for the grand mosque next to ground zero, immediately followed by city-wide Islamic holidays does not send some chills down the spines of the rest of us and the politicians, I don’t know what it takes to see the Islamic menace in our backyard. Watch out, all you women out there will be wearing burqua, and the men wearing beards; and all of us reciting from the Koran won’t be too far behind. I call on everyone to demand that the politicians to stop this nonsense now before it is too late. Learn from the mistakes of Western Europe.

  • jailkkhosla

    With the rise of the internet there should be no need to have religious holidays for anybody including Christians. Christian students should be allowed to take Christmas off, Hindus should be allowed to take Diwali off and so on.All lesson plans should be made available over the internet so that any student taking a religious day off can make up for lost lessons by going to the internet.It will be a good idea to shut the buildings in July and August and in January and February to save on utilities unless the school gets all its energy from renewable resources.However, that does not mean learning will stop and again the internet will take over and children will study at home, in the libraries at McDonald’s and so on.If Muslims wish to take the whole month of Ramadan off they should build their own scholls with no funding from the tax payers.

  • Elisa2

    There are over a million Chinese in NY who also have holidays that the family likes to gather on. It would seem if this was about trying to be practical and considerate of family time, their concerns would definitely come first before other groups.So it is something else.

  • jm125

    From article; “The push for school closings on the two holy days is a result of the growing Muslim population, roughly 600,000 in New York City, resulting in over 100,000 Muslims students in the city’s school district, or 10-12% of its student body”.

  • scoran

    Reminder to liberals who love to bring up the Crusades. Muslims invaded and had occupied spain for hundreds of years before the first crusades began. Also siciliy. I do apologize for confusing you with facts though.

  • RobertCurleyJacobs

    Bad idea. The calendar system should be made secular. I like the current system of time off during summer and a break in December and spring, but keep it a secular thing.

  • shovandas

    Thank God my children are not in the New York or Florida school system. Now every religious group will clamor for their holiday. This is going to ultimately destroy our country. What a shame.

  • Garak

    All or nothing.Nothing is better.PS: There will be a lawsuit against the Hillsborough County School District–fully justified–for its bowing to the bible-thumpers. BTW, do Catholic schools close for National Child Molestation Day?

  • gtaylor2

    Good piece, but the author got one fact wrong. That Florida district is not closing their schools on Christmas – that’s a canard being spread by the likes of World Net News and the right. They couldn’t have closed on Christmas even if they had wanted to — it is an official holiday. They are no longer closing on non-official religious holidays like Yom Kippur and Good Friday. So afraid are they to seen by the Christian right as soft on Islam, they will punish Christians and Jews — and still get the Christian right mad at them. BTW, speaking of this shorting the school year, aren’t they required to have 180 days a year? Seems like they’d just be letting the schools out for summer 2 days later rather than shortening the school year.

  • gtaylor2

    Ooops, that last post should have read “they couldn’t have opened on Christmas even if they had wanted to.”

  • gtaylor2

    And just one more thing, as inspector Colombo would say:

  • oxiescrubb1

    Once religion is removed from any decision concerning the school calendar then everyone will be equal and be able to make their own individual choice between religious observance and school participation. Winter Break.Spring Break. Summer Vacation.Take the number of religious holidays already on the school calendar and give every student that amount of no penalty days off. Atheists get a couple of free days off and everyone else can decide their own balance between school and church.

  • Hazmat77

    As a non-believer I demanded to have school closed EVERY day, so that I could practice my ‘religion’. Needless to say the school board rejected my demand, but permanently suspended me so that I became free to do what I wanted.Who said life is fair?

  • slamming

    GARAK: How LONG are you people going to continue to beat up on the Catholic Church? There are LOTS of priests, sisters, etc. who had NOTHING to do with the scandal! For your information, there are child molesters of every religion, color, ethnicity, and age in this sick world! Lay off Catholics…it’s getting old and worn-out!!!

  • shewholives

    Give Muslims and inch, they demand a mile.

  • shewholives

    Muslims give it a rest already. The world does not revolve around you.


    Peace, Love, Dove.

  • hugmekatie

    Religious holidays should not be the reason for any school to close.

  • BootmanDC

    I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of NYC and we did not close for any religious holidays. We did close for winter break, which happened to include Christmas and sometimes Hannukah. We had spring break, but that didn’t always coincide either with Easter or Passover. Observance of religious holidays were considered excused absences and left to individual parents to decide whether they wanted their child to miss school to observe a particular holiday.

  • tlwinslow

    Maybe one day Americans will get a clue that when Muslims immigrate they bring Islam and its supremacy mentality with them and don’t try to assimilate or accept our way of life but ceaselessly try to make us submit to theirs, undermining the Constitution as necessary. How wise is it to continue to permit mass Muslim immigration that will eventually change the makeup of our country? Get a spiritualist and ask Ted Kennedy, he started it with his 1965 immigration act.

  • rajkatori88

    It is funny to see all these Muslims here in America calling for religious freedom and liberty but wherever Muslims are in majority, Islam reigns supreme with non-Muslims disappearing and insulted. But American Muslims will not shed a tear for them.

  • phvr38

    May the Call to Prayer be heard five times a day at City Hall and Gracie Mansion.

  • snowbucks


  • DaveHarris

    Isn’t it during Ramadan that they all try even harder to murder each other? At least that’s the way it is in Iraq.

  • bailey50

    Why does everyone seem to forget that our forefathers put “In God We Trust” “One Nation Under God”. If they come here legally they should not try to change our laws. If they want their holidays they should of stayed in their country! We can’t accomodate every religion, to the fullest extent. I am sick and tired of these people coming here trying to change our laws to fit them. Why come here then, stay where your at!

  • AMviennaVA

    We have rearranged the school year to accommodate Jews. We have even renamed breaks, for that reason. Muslims are a higher percentage of the population than Jews. Therefore, they should be accommodated. Alternatively, we should go revert to the previous schedule.

  • meowomon

    No public schools or private schools that take public money should be closed for any religious reasons whatsoever. period. Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice etc.

  • probashi

    This is an example of political correctness to the max. Ideally,in a ‘secular’ state there shouldn’t be any religious holidays. While attempts to do away with observance of the traditional holidays would fail to get support, adding more holidays is a bad idea. Where does one stop? Why not Hindu holidays, Buddhist holidays, Shinto holidays, Wicca holidays? They,too,are part of the American melting pot.

  • Skeptic1

    “Muslims are a higher percentage of the population than Jews.”I don’t think that’s true. And its certainly not true in NYC.

  • overed

    slamming wrote:

  • chadborman

    It’s great to see that there is so much religous and racial bigotry out there. Without these comment boards, I think people would belive the myth that we live in a completely tolerant country. To address a few points from the Islam-bashers, first, no one is calling for days off for Muslim holidays across the nation. They’re asking for it in places, like NYC, where a significant portion of the student and teacher popoulation are Muslim, and absecnes would disrupt normal operations. Second, for the comments about Muslims having the nerve to ask for the same rights as other religions in the U.S., when Saudia Arabia doesn’t offer the same to non-Muslims: Are Saudi Arabia and other intollerant countries really the ones we want to compare ourselves to when it comes to religous freedom – do we need to set the bar as low as it will go? For the intolerants out there – you’re playing right into the hands of terrorists who insist the war on terrorism is actually a war on Islam. As a country, we shouldn’t fight the religion a terrorist has basterdized, we should fight the basterdization of the religion and the terrorist. Believe it or not, when a Christian or Jew or Hindu commits an act of terrorism, it doesn’t reflect on all who practice the same faith. The same should go for peaceful Muslims.

  • JohninMpls

    bailey50, if by “our forefathers,” you mean “congressinal representatives in the 1950s,” you’d be right.”Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1954. The earliest use of the addition only goes back as far as 1948, when Louis A. Bowman appended to the original Pledge of Allegiance during a meeting of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.”In God We Trust” was officially adopted as the national motto in 1956. Although the phrase appeared on US coins as early as 1866, the de facto national motto was “E Pluribus Unum.” The 84th US Congress made the change.Those are the facts. I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether you consider these individuals to be our forefathers, or whether you feel these changes were just a knee-jerk cold war reaction to those godless communists.

  • chimom

    Our public schools are almost completely secular anyway. We can’t even sing Christmas songs anymore. Personally, I don’t want muslim holidays on the school calendar. Until Islam goes through some kind of reformation, as Christianity did, it’s too insidious and dangerous. Muslims want to lecture us about tolerance-that’s like HITLER lecturing people about diversity. ….And if I see one more tired old clich’e “brave & courageous artist” put a Crucifix in urine, ….why don’t you bold cutting-edge “artist’s” take on a REAL challenge and confront MUSLIMS about ISLAM????????!!!!!!!!

  • potaboc

    This issue is so dangerous that a stand must be made. If one looks at the record, Christian holidays were added to the school calendar (for the record, I am a Christian) on which there is no obligation for Christians not to engage in every-day activities solely because “Jews have one so we should have one too. If it weren’t politically impossible, i would advocate getting rid of some religion-based holidays we have now.

  • huntls

    Why isn’t 9/11 a holiday? This is a true day of rememberance of the thousands that died at the hands of Mulims!!! No, the muslims want their way and will likely get it, sickening!!!

  • bnichols6

    Moderate Moslems only want to kill Jews. Extreme Moslems want to kill all non-believers (as well as many schismatic Moslems).

  • glowprincess

    Why should there be any holidays supporting an organization/religion that is little more than a front for terrorism?

  • werowe1

    My kid’s school in Montgomery County, MD alread lists the start and end of Ramadan. Plus there is an Arab-American History month.

  • canadaman

    I cannot believe the degree of hatred and intolerance toward a minority I see in these comments. Is this how you practice first amendment to the United States constitution? Is this a true portrait of free exercise of religion in USA. Thanks God that I live in Canada.