Suit Targets School Holiday Closings
by Tom Flynn
The following article is from the Secular
Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 4.
In my 1993 book, The Trouble With Christmas, I predicted that conflicts over public school observance of religious holidays would grow more
numerous—and more complex—as a result of increasing religious diversity in American life. Ultimately, I suggested, Christmas might outlive its usefulness as a universal and compulsory public winter holiday.
Christmas is in no danger yet, but the first salvo of the conflict I predicted has been fired in a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb. Acting on behalf of Hindu and Muslim parents, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the Sycamore Community School District, demanding an end to its recently enacted policy of closing for the Jewish High Holy Days.
Seven years ago, Jewish parents asked the school district why schools closed for Good Friday but not for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Greater Cincinnati has one of the largest Jewish minority populations in the Midwest.) When the school board instituted the requested closing, Hindu and Muslim parents objected, demanding like treatment for the feast days of their religions. First they petitioned, then they sued. Now the ACLU has.
"If you're going to give a holiday to the Jews, you ought to give holidays to the Muslims, to the Hindus, to the Buddhists, to the Sikhs, and that is impractical," a Muslim parent told the media.
The suit seeks to bar school closings on the feast days of any minority religion, arguing that Judaism does not merit special treatment denied to other minority faiths. The school district contends that its motives are practical, not religious; in the years before the closings, some 15% of the district's more than 6,200 students would be absent on High Holy Days, a number educators consider disruptive to school operation.
Cincinnati has become a flashpoint for religious holiday issues. A Jewish attorney in that city brought a suit challenging the federal government's policy of closing on Christmas; now religiously devout non-Judeo-Christians (the group I dubbed
"The New Outsiders" in my book) have taken up the cudgels against favoritism that benefits a longer-established minority religion. This year, the Christian Coalition may win a few cases about prayer at football games. In the long run, I still think we as a society will come to realize that religion is simply too hot for government to handle at all.
Tom Flynn is Coordinator of the First Amendment Task Force for the Council for Secular
Humanism Online Library