What's your take on this? At first blush, the request seems reasonable, but after some thought, it seems like missing a third of the reporting period is a big impact on the children. Does having a sub for three weeks count as a reasonable accommodation? Would it be fair to ask her to take a semester off if she needs such a big period of time?
Oh sure, just because I started the thread, you want to put me
on the spot!
Personally, I'm not terribly sympathetic to claims of religious discrimination in the workplace. For the most part, it seems to me that people who demand accommodation for their religious beliefs are either (1) using that as a cover to impose their religious views on co-workers, (2) enormous crybabies, or (3) both.
The teacher in this case wants three weeks off -- unpaid -- to go to Mecca. I don't know much about the tenets of Islam, but I think that's something that every observant Muslim is expected to do, although I'm not sure if it's required
. Furthermore, I'm pretty confident that there's no time limit -- as long as you perform the Hajj at some point in your life, you're OK. According to the story, this teacher told her school district that, "based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj." I'm not sure why she couldn't delay -- and the story doesn't say whether she actually went to Mecca once she quit -- but that may not be important under the law.
The statute says that the employer needs to make a reasonable accommodation for the employee's religious beliefs, even if those beliefs may be objectively unreasonable, and the courts don't inquire into whether one's religious beliefs are sincere or just completely nuts. On the other hand, there are limits. If your Baal-worshipping employee wants to perform virgin sacrifices in the lunch room, I don't think you're required to build the fire. On the other hand, if your Jewish employee wants to put a mezuzah on the entrance to his cubicle, you would be hard-pressed to justify refusing such a request.
This case falls somewhere in between those extremes. Three weeks is a long time for a teacher to be away from classes. Also, the story mentions that the district was concerned that such a request wasn't covered under the collective bargaining agreement. That, to me, is an important point. From the scanty details in the story, however, it's difficult to determine whether the teacher's request would need to be accommodated under the law. I am confident, however, that the government, which rarely takes up these kinds of private civil rights cases, will prevail.
What I'm really interested in seeing is whether Pat Robertson, whose ACLJ
always takes up these kinds of religious discrimination cases like it invented them, will support the teacher here.