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School dist. sued after denying Muslim teacher leave to perform Hajj

 
 
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 03:04 pm
The federal government has sued a west suburban school district for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion.

In a civil rights case, the department said the school district in Berkeley denied the request of Safoorah Khan on grounds that her requested leave was unrelated to her professional duties and was not set forth in the contract between the school district and the teachers union.

In doing so, the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices, the government said.

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

Khan started as a middle school teacher for Berkeley School District 87 - about 15 miles west of Chicago - in 2007. In 2008, she asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform the Hajj. After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote the board that "based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj," and resigned shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago.

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

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Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 3,394 • Replies: 23
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OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 03:55 pm

Plaintiff 'd win.
I predict a settlement.





David
0 Replies
 
engineer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:04 pm
@joefromchicago,
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?
Rockhead
 
  0  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:10 pm
@joefromchicago,
don't teachers get 3 months off a year?

or is it too hot in the summer...
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:15 pm
@Rockhead,
The Hajj takes place over a five day period, regulated by the Lunar calendar. Last year, that was in December. This is not something that someone can schedule at their convenience.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:21 pm
My mistake--the Hagira season was in late December in 2008. However, the point is the same. The Hajj takes place on a schedule, and is not subject to the whims of the would-be Hajji.
Rockhead
 
  2  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:23 pm
@Setanta,
wasn't that the guy from Johnny Quest?
PUNKEY
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:29 pm
Are you sure she requested an "unpaid" leave of absence?

Substitutes are brought in all the time for long term leaves, whether maternity or medical. But those tend to be paid leaves covered by their contracts.

What she wants is to leave and be sure that her job is there. That, they probably can't guarantee. Wonder what her teacher's union is saying about it.
0 Replies
 
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:37 pm

Y r there so many js in "Hajj" ?
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:41 pm
@Rockhead,
People who make the pilgrimage are entitled to call themselves Hajji, one who has made the Hajj. The name is often eroneously used as a given name by westerners. It's like Palmer--people in Europe who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem used to buy a palm frond there (there has never been a lack of people to fleece the tourists) to show that they had been there. In England, such people got the cognomen "Palmer," and it became a family name.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 04:46 pm
@engineer,
engineer wrote:

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.
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Dec, 2010 05:05 pm

U need a microscope to see the
chances of teacher losing this case.


Odds of a settlement approach 100%.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 03:53 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
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.


Yes, it is required, unless the individual is so physically incapacitated as to make it impossible from a reasonable point of view (see your local Imam). There are five "pillars" of Islam, and the Hajj is number five. These are five acts which are obligatory for all Muslims. There's really no way that this could be accomodated without disrupting the school year, until the next time it falls in late December (the schedule is determined by the lunar calendar). The Hajj required five days, not three weeks, though. Even given air travel to Saudi Arabia, it couldn't take more than a week.

This is, by the way, something about which Sunni and Shi'ite agree (the five pillars), so it really is basic to Islam for all Muslims.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 04:05 am
The five pillars are really rather easy. 1) One must publicly proclaim the creed of Islam ("There is no god but god, and Mohammed is his prophet."). 2) You must pray five times daily. 3) You must give alms. 4) You must fast in daylight hours during Ramadan. 5) You must make the Hajj at some time in your life.

By all that i've ever read about making the Hajj, this woman is full of horsie poop to allege that she has to do it right now.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 04:22 am
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

Wrong, she should go ONCE in her lifetime, not necessarily this first year on a new job. My take is that three weeks off is unduly detrimental to the class, that if this teacher wants to schedule a Hajj then she should be made to take the semester off, and be a sub when ever she feels like working. I feel the same way about teachers who scheduled elective surgery during the school year....do it in the summer, don't burden the kids, and the school should not allow the kids to suffer from this.

The Federal Government is out of line.....but thats nothing new..
0 Replies
 
PUNKEY
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 06:38 am
from the story:

"The district denied her request, noting that the "purpose of her leave was not related to her professional duties," the Justice Department said. The legal challenge filed Monday states that "because Berkeley School District denied her a religious accommodation, the district compelled Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, and thus forced her discharge."

Unless she can prove that her religious obligation MUST be during those particular weeks, I don't think she has a case. What other options did she have - like doing this the three months during summer?

Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 06:51 am
@PUNKEY,
You don't pay attention, do you? The Hajj takes place at a certain time each year. That varies in comparison to the solar calendar that we use, becuase it is based on the lunar calendar. Nevertheless, it takes place in late autumn or early winter. You can't just decide you want to go on Hajj in the summer.
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 07:09 am
@Setanta,
Quote:
You can't just decide you want to go on Hajj in the summer.
however, unless you have some reason to think that you will die in the next year there is no particular reason to go this year.....
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 09:28 am
@PUNKEY,
PUNKEY wrote:
Unless she can prove that her religious obligation MUST be during those particular weeks, I don't think she has a case. What other options did she have - like doing this the three months during summer?

That's a rather tricky area for the courts. No judge wants to sit in judgment of a religion's tenets or a person's genuine adherence to her faith's dictates. These aren't canon courts and the judges aren't priests or imams. If the teacher says that she must go on a hajj now, I'm not sure who would testify against her. If that's her firmly held religious belief, then, under the statute, I think that might be enough. I admit, though, that this is an area of the law with which I am not entirely familiar.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Dec, 2010 09:30 am
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
The Hajj required five days, not three weeks, though. Even given air travel to Saudi Arabia, it couldn't take more than a week.

Maybe she has to prepare herself spiritually. But then I wonder if she'd give her students a week off to study for a one-day test.
0 Replies
 
 

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