DOJ Sues School District Over Muslim Pilgrimage

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On Monday, the federal government sued a Chicago school district for not letting a Muslim schoolteacher take a pilgrimage to Mecca. In 2008, the teacher, Safoorah Khan, asked for 19 days of unpaid leave in order to perform the Hajj, a trip to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia that Muslims are required to make once in their lifetimes. The district denied her request twice, and Khan resigned shortly thereafter, saying that "based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj."

The Department of Justice says that "the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate [Khan's] religious practices," according to The Associated Press. The DOJ's suit says that the school district "compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs." Khan's case hasn't won much sympathy from conservative bloggers, though: a chorus of voices on the right are questioning the merits of the lawsuit.

  • Why Did She Need Almost Three Weeks? wonders Aaron Worthing at Patterico's Pontifications. "The actual Hajj requires her to be there for five consecutive days. So why does she need a full 18 days to do this? I mean, let's be generous to her and give her two days to deal with jet lag, coming and going--why can't she just get it all done in nine days? The answer, one suspects, is that she will either see relatives and/or do a little tourism." Worthing also points out that the period of leave Khan asked for--December 1 through December 19, 2008--would have caused her to miss important end-of-semester tests. "Lost in all of this is that these students are being deprived of their teacher at a crucial time in the semester. Where are they in her self-centered little world?"

  • Couldn't She Have Just Done It Some Other Year?  Jay Tea at Wizbang puzzles over why Khan needed to make the pilgrimage in 2008, since Islamic law is open-ended on the matter of when the Hajj can be performed. Tea calls it "a religious obligation that she can do at any point in her life, as long as it's not too inconvenient for her to do so. It's simply no big deal that she do it that year, or any year. But she's suing to get her way ... It's cases like this that makes it more understandable why some states are passing laws specifically declaring that Shariah law has no standing in the United States."

  • Flagrant Identity Politics From the DOJ  An editorial at Investor's Business Daily scolds the Justice Department for its "social activism." "Attorney General Eric Holder is fulfilling a promise to pander to the special interests of Muslims," the editorial reads. "It's plain that he's an activist, not an impartial enforcer of the nation's laws."

  • The Government Is on Firm Footing Here  Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy offers a lengthy explanation of why, according to multiple legal precedents, the lawsuit is justified. "The government is enforcing an American statute here," writes Volokh. "And the fact that the employees are Muslims, and their religious beliefs thus stem from Sharia law rather than from their understanding of Jewish law or of Christian commandments, doesn't strip them of their rights under that statute ... The federal government is acting pretty much the way that it's supposed to act when a claim of violation of American antidiscrimination law is raised. It's not showing special favoritism towards Muslims in this case."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.