PJ Media

No Three-Week Vacations for the Hajj? Don't Worry, the DOJ's On It

Two interesting poll results have come to light in recent days. The first was Barack Obama’s lowest ever approval rating, and the second was a poll commissioned by ABC News and the Washington Post that revealed that only 43% were in favor of ObamaCare with 52% opposed. Other polls have indicated as much as a 60% level of disapproval. However, Jake Tapper of ABC did mention the poll, calling it the “lowest level of popularity ever.” The Washington Post did not publish the results of its own poll.

Such selective publishing has also infected a very interesting story relating to a Muslim teacher and Eric Holder’s Justice Department, a story which has received little mainstream media press, but reasonable play in the blogosphere. In December of 2008, Safoorah Khan, a middle school teacher in the Berkeley school district (a Chicago-area district), asked her principal to give her three weeks off during the school year so she could make the hajj, a ritual journey to Mecca, the most holy city of Islam, that all Muslims are expected to make once in their lifetime if possible. Her principal refused because the request was not related to her professional duties and exceeded the union contract under which the school operates. He no doubt also refused because to grant her request would have disrupted the continuity of the educations of her students (Khan apparently offered to take the time without pay). Enter Eric Holder.

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging that the school district violated Khan’s civil rights by refusing to accommodate her religious practices. The DOJ is demanding an order forcing the Berkeley district to adopt policies that would allows such religious observances, and is also seeking back pay, compensatory damages, and reinstatement for Kahn, whose actions led to her dismissal. “Employees should not have to choose between their religious practice and their livelihood,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Right Division. The Equal Employment OpportunityCommission is also involved in the case. This is the first such case ever brought by the DOJ.

Many readers will no doubt remember Mr. Perez as instrumental in dismissing the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panthers, a case that was actually won, and arguably committing perjury to cover the fact that political appointees such as himself ruled the decision-making process. They will also no doubt recall that the Civil Rights Division has adopted an unwritten — though widely known — policy against protecting the civil rights of whites. All of this was brought to light by past and present Civil Rights Division attorneys and was documented and confirmed in a recent report of the United States Civil Rights Commission.

It is tempting, and likely correct, to believe that Mr. Holder’s DOJ is involved primarily because Ms. Khan is a Muslim, in the hope of righting what they see as anti-Muslim attitudes and prejudice rampant in the American population. That such rampant prejudice is essentially nonexistent seems to bother them not at all. For example, several years ago, NBC enlisted men in obviously Muslim garb to attend a NASCAR race in Virginia, making their presence obvious, even provocative, in the hope of obtaining incendiary footage of racist race fans, but the planted Muslims were treated no differently than anyone else. No racism; no footage. Mr. Obama’s support and rhetoric in favor of Muslim ideals and Muslim organizations, even those with clear links to terrorism, are equally well-known, so the DOJ’s involvement should hardly be a surprise to the well-informed.

But by entering into this case, the DOJ seeks to do much mischief in the support of Muslim tradition and Sharia (Islamic law). Schools have of late become primarily political footballs, when they’re not farm teams for professional football teams. All but ignored is that they exist to provide a free, common education for American children, an education not only in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in shared American values and responsibilities, values and responsibilities that if actually taught and enforced will enable most children to one day become responsible citizens. Anything that interferes with this process should and must be resisted.

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?