If there is separation of church and state

then it should extend to our schools. It’s really that simple. No muss. No fuss. Life goes on.

What brought his on is what happened in Montgomery County, MD the other day. After concerns were raised that Muslim holy days were not included on the school calendar, the school board met. Now, I’ll admit my first thought when learning the school board had met to discuss the issue was to assume it would put the holy days onto the calendar, either as official holidays for all students or alternate holidays. The school board did something that surprised me: it removed reference to ALL religious holy days from next year’s calendar.

I guess this is where I admit I had a moment’s knee jerk reaction about what happened. After all, how dare they take away “Christmas break” and replace it with the innocuous “Winter break”? Then I took a step back and thought about it.

And, frankly, I have to applaud the district.

Needless to say, there are a lot of upset folks in Maryland right now who don’t share my point of view. Christians and Jews — who had their holidays removed from the calendar even though students will still get those days off. They just aren’t going to be denoted as religious holidays any longer — are up in arms. The Muslims who asked to have their holy days included aren’t happy because they wanted inclusion. They didn’t want the school board to toss out religious holidays and they recognize that they will be the ones blamed for what happened.

Now, I grew up with Christmas break, Easter break, etc. But then I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt. But then we said “Have a Merry Christmas” and it wasn’t taken as a religious slur. It was simply a way of wishing someone a happy holiday season. (There really are times when being politically correct can be taken too far and this is one of them. Some of us have gotten much too thin skinned and too filled with a sense of entitlement. But I digress.)

As much as I value my own religion and religious beliefs, I have a problem with our public schools associating holidays with Holy Days — of any religion. I also have problems with public schools teaching religion. For one thing, right now there is a trend to bend over backwards to teach that Islam is the religion of peace and yet to completely ignore the other religions completely. For another, those teaching religion, usually have no more knowledge about what they are teaching than is in the textbook. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations and outright wrong information happens then.

But back to Holy Days and schools.

In this country, public schools are extensions of local government. Over the years, through legislation and through court rulings, religion has been taken out of the classroom. So, why, if a prayer is forbidden to be said over the PA system, can a district designate the holy days of one religion as a holiday?

And, if the district can recognize the holy days of one or two religions, how does it choose which ones? Do you go with only the religions that have a certain percentage of students participating in them? How do you find out what that percentage is? But then, what about those who follow other religions? Where do you draw the line?

And that is the real issue. Where do you draw the line?

Or, to put it a bit differently, can you close the door after amending the calendar to reflect new religious holidays? If your district recognized Christian holidays and then starts recognizing Jewish (or any other) holy days, what do you do when a Sikh or Baha’i or Wiccan or one of any number of other religions wants their holy days included in the calendar?

So, instead of protesting that the district took away your religious holidays, the folks in Montgomery County need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

And they need to look at the calendar. It is my understanding that the days are still days there will be no school. But now it is up to the families to make sure the students know that any particular day is important in their religion and make sure the proper observations are held.

Hmm, putting the responsibility back on the parents. What a revolutionary idea.

***

NaNo update. I wrote yesterday. I would have to open the file but it was close to 2,500 words. Not as many as I wanted but at least it was something.

4 Comments

  1. Soap Box Time

    I don’t believe in “Separation of Church And State”.

    What I believe in “There should be no State Religion and the State must not interfere in the free exercise of Religion”.

    When people go crazy about a student carrying a Bible or a teacher reading his Bible when another teacher would read a “secular” book, then sometime is seriously wrong.

    But then what do I know, according to one person as a Conservative Christian I want to legally kill gays.

    Gets off Soap Box

    1. It’s a good soapbox, Paul, and one I’ve climbed upon many times. My issue with this particular “controversy” is that if you are going to give kids religious holidays off, you either have to let every child who is a “member” of a recognized religion — and there are a ton of them — their own religious holy days off or you need to take all religious holy days off the school calendar. Otherwise, it does give, at least at first glance, the appearance of favoring one religion or form of religion precedence over another and that does get into the the realm of state-sponsored/favored religion.

  2. Take a look at the NYC Alternate Side Parking Suspension Calendar. It’s not quite the same as declaring all of these days holidays, but note that it is possible to give official recognition to the major holidays of every group with significant representation in the city.

    (The reason for the policy is that observant Jews do not drive cars on the Sabbath or major holidays, so we asked the City Council to suspend alternate-side parking regulations on those days. This courtesy was later extended to other faith groups for their major holidays, even those with no driving restrictions, in interests of fairness and neighborliness.)

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