Competent educators know that the most important factor in student success is having competent, dedicated, hardworking teachers in each classroom. Such teachers do not want to be absent from their students, even for a single day. In this case, apparently Ms. Kahn did not attempt to organize her trip in advance of the school year, giving her principal the chance to determine if it would be possible to obtain a long-term substitute teacher. Even so, few if any principals would be disposed to allow any teacher to leave school for three successive weeks for what amounts to personal business, no matter how deeply felt the teacher’s need might be, religious or otherwise. This is particularly true in December, during which the final few weeks of the first semester fall. What many fail to realize is that a teacher’s summer vacation, which by the way grows shorter each year, is largely used by teachers to obtain state mandated re-certification credits (usually at their own expense), and to conduct the kind of personal business that is just not possible during the school year. In fact, most teachers would not make such a request, particularly on the spur of the moment, understanding it to be inherently unreasonable.
Teachers certainly do upon occasion have to leave the classroom for weeks at a time due to unexpected illness or family emergencies such as deaths or the unexpected needs of elderly parents, but such matters are understood and accepted and are commonly written into the polices of school districts, particularly those like the Berkeley district with a unionized work force. In this case, the union contract apparently did not allow such absences.
The courts, and the Justice Department, have traditionally extended substantial deference toward school authorities in such matters recognizing that interference would be far more likely to be harmful than helpful and that local control was of paramount importance. Of course, the Obama administration knows best, in this and in every other facet of our lives, so DOJ involvement in this matter likely represents only the nose of the camel under the tent.
The determining factor in this case will likely be encapsulated in one word: reasonable. In other words, was the Berkeley district unreasonable in failing to fully accommodate Kahn’s desire for a religious pilgrimage? By throwing the full weight and resources of the federal government behind Ms. Kahn, it is clear that the DOJ under Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama believe that the district was unreasonable, at least so far as the desires of Muslims are concerned. It is not unreasonable to believe that a Christian teacher suddenly struck with the idea of a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem would not be accorded the same federal support.
Should the courts rule in favor of Ms. Kahn (and by extension, the DOJ and Mr. Obama), it is hard to imagine which Muslim religious observance would not have to be accommodated. After all, if it is legally reasonable for Muslim teachers to be given three weeks off for religious reasons upon request, what lesser imposition on public time and money — and the uninterrupted learning environments of their students — could be deemed unreasonable? Foot washing stations? Segregation of male and female students and wearing of the hijab for female teachers and students? Students being able to disrupt class when they please, laying down prayer rugs, facing Mecca and loudly praying? Should any of this sound farfetched, keep in mind that these matters, and more, have already been discussed and/or litigated in schools and colleges across the nation.
But perhaps this is really nothing but a tempest in a teapot. Perhaps this is nothing more than Mr. Obama’s continuing “outreach” to the Muslim world. After all, NASA’s primary new mission is to help Muslims to feel good about centuries old scientific accomplishments. After all, what’s a little Sharia among friends?