By Fiona Mcelrath
There is some controversy, I have noticed, as to whether or not Muslim holidays should be recognized in public schools—that is, if the government should or shouldn’t decree such days as days off from school for all students, not only Muslim ones.
This has recently been done in New York, thanks to their mayor, and is awesome for the Muslim community.
But is it really the government’s place to make changes to the school curriculum to accommodate one religion?
“Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” is the question some of you may or may not be asking.
Indeed, the First Amendment established such separation; and while of course we have Catholic and Christian schools—we are a historically Baptist college ourselves—public schools seem to have taken quite drastic measures to stay indifferent thus far.
The way I see it, if public institutions are going to recognize religious holidays, let it be all or nothing, and this is why:
America is known as the land of religious freedom, true, and because of this we have never had a national religion. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state, which means that it keeps the government from dictating any laws about religion. For the integrity of America, it is important that such separation remain strong in this country.
It is true, though, that as far as holidays go the most well known and established holidays of this nation are religiously based: Thanksgiving and Christmas are prime examples—even winter break and spring break have Christian themes.
Despite such underlying values, however, they have become so very commercialized over the years that they are more cultural than explicitly religious any longer. Even Halloween used to have saintly associations.
If America were to not acknowledge the holidays of any religion, what might that look like?
As a somewhat extreme example of shunning all religions in schools is France, where students may not wear anything seen as “religiously conspicuous” to school. Students who did were, at one time, expelled. I do not perceive that America will take such measures, at least not any time soon.
On the other side of the coin, as it were, is the option to acknowledge all religious holidays.
I am no expert on how many holidays a given religion has that are important enough to require a day off, but with the number of religions that could be represented in America, I would guess that the school year would have to be expanded somewhat to make up for the loss of school days.
I believe in religious freedom; no individual should be oppressed because of such beliefs, and students should be allowed to express those beliefs in their schools if they so desire.
Perhaps there is a better way of managing Muslim holidays so that students wouldn’t have to miss a day of class than simply letting the entire school out—or maybe there isn’t.