For people who complain about a “war on Christmas,” here’s a reality check. If you’re Christian in the United States, you can generally practice your religion without constraint. Assuming you don’t force your faith on others, being devout is not likely to cost you your job.
But that’s not as true if you belong to a religion, like Islam, that has fewer followers in the United States. Case in point: A Muslim middle school teacher in Illinois wanted to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca called the hajj. For Muslims, the hajj is a solemn, once-in-a-lifetime obligation for adults who are physically and financially able to travel.
The teacher, Safoorah Khan, needed plenty of time to travel and to do all the activities associated with the hajj. So she requested about three weeks unpaid leave from her school district to fulfill her religious obligation.
Unlike the Christmas season, the hajj season usually involves no national holidays in the United States. So Khan’s school was scheduled to be in session. The district denied her request twice, saying it didn’t relate to her professional work and was not required by her contract.
After the second denial, Khan resigned. In her resignation letter, she told the school board that based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing the hajj.
The U.S. Justice Department has stepped in and sued the school district over its decision, claiming unlawful discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That law calls on employers to make reasonable accommodation for religious observances.
We think taking a leave without pay is pretty reasonable.
What we don’t think is reasonable is being made to feel like a square peg in a round hole just because you’re a member of the non-majority religion.
Costello is director of Teaching Tolerance.
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