A Good Idea? Maryland County Schools Decide To Strike All Religious Holidays From Next Year’s Calendar November 13, 2014

A Good Idea? Maryland County Schools Decide To Strike All Religious Holidays From Next Year’s Calendar

Upsetting news: the 2015-2016 official school calendar of Montgomery County, Maryland won’t mention National Pasta Day (17 October).

Actually, I don’t give a damn about that, but Pastafarians might. Should they object, I’d have to side with their silliness on principle. If one religion gets its holidays listed, then, by rights, all others should receive the same state-recognized honor as soon as believers ask. It’s never a good idea for public schools to take the Constitution’s Establishment Clause lightly.

In recent months, Maryland Muslims have advocated listing one of Islam’s holidays, Eid al-Adha, on the school calendar. More power to them, I say. Their request is at least as reasonable as the so-far fictional one in the Pastafarianism example above. But when the Montgomery Board of Education, spurred by the Muslim activists, re-evaluated the practice of printing religious references on school calendars, the board decided to treat everyone the same: by declining to print any religious holidays on its school schedule from now on.

School officials said the time off in December would become “winter break,” while the time off around the Easter holiday would be called “spring break.” Other days, such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would be simply listed as a day when there is “no school for students and teachers.” … In practical terms, Montgomery schools will still be closed for the Christian and Jewish holidays, as in previous years, and students will still get the same days off, as planned.

Works for me; everyone gets treated equally in that case. My slight reservation centers on the fact that the decision may have been made out of Christian spite, rather than out of a desire to acknowledge that no religion is more special than others (and that not a single religion is more special than no religion at all).

That misgiving notwithstanding, the result of the vote is refreshingly clear.

Had the board chosen to recognize Eid al-Adha, it also should have listed Navaratri, Simchat Torah, Ash Wednesday, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Holi, Chinese New Year, Hindi New Year, Sukkot, Mawlid al-Nabi, Diwali, Pentecost, St. Patrick’s Day, and Jnan Panchami, to name but a few. And that would have been kind of refreshing, too: a subtle reminder that people believe many different things and hold them holy, each one a jab in the eye of normative Christianity.

The Washington Post explains that the omission of some lines on the calendar doesn’t mean much in practice:

Board members said Tuesday that the new calendar will reflect days the state requires the system to be closed and that it will close on other days that have shown a high level of student and staff absenteeism. Though those days happen to coincide with major Christian and Jewish holidays, board members made clear that the days off are not meant to observe those religious holidays, which they say is not legally permitted.

A little pretzel-esque, but I can certainly follow the reasoning.

The only downside to the decision? Everyone seems to be upset.

Jews and Christian lose their special shoutout on the calendar, so of course Fox News’ Todd Starnes is in high dudgeon, accusing the Board of Education of engaging in Muslim appeasement.

Muslims are ticked off, too. Thundered Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition:

“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality.”

But that’s a completely up-is-down read on the situation. Treating everyone the same is the definition of equality.

Mr. Ali would be right if he pointed out that Muslim students don’t get to stay home on Eid al-Adha, and I’d reply that American Hindus don’t get the day off on Holi, Jains don’t get time off for Jnan Panchami, Satanists and pagans have to attend school on the days of the solstice and the equinox, and so on. It would be next to impossible to run a successful school if the district had to accommodate, with free time given, every belief under the sun — or even just the mainstream ones.

With its calendar directive, the Montgomery Board of Education made the best decision it could. Believers may howl about it, but it’s a win for secularism.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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