2001-11-24 / Editorial/Opinion

Starting Down A Slippery Slope

Starting Down A Slippery Slope

We understand that Chancellor Levy and the central board of education mean well. In light of what happened at the World Trade Center and the system’s need to prove that it is indeed protecting Muslim students from discrimination, the chancellor ordered that, during the month of Ramadan, those students should be allowed to pray during schools hours. The chancellor said that students may be provided with "alternative schedules" that would allow for such prayer. The chancellor’s ruling also seemed to many an order for schools with large Muslim populations to provide space for the prayer away from the other students. "We want to accommodate them," says Marge Feinberg, a spokesperson for Levy. While Levy means well, he is starting the system down a slippery slope that will lead to a Constitutional challenge as well as requests from each of the other major religions to allow its students the same accommodation. Levy has to understand that once he "accommodates" one religious group in this way, he has to accommodate them all. Some may ask, "what’s wrong with accommodating all religious groups in the same way?" The answer to that simplistic question is that it is unconstitutional to do so. Schools must strictly avoid the appearance of support for any religion, or, for that matter, all of them. There recently was an announcement that open school evening in the elementary schools would be held at all schools on a certain date. That date turned out to be "Dwali," a family holiday reportedly akin to Thanksgiving to many Hindu families. Would the school board hold open school night on Thanksgiving evening? Of course not, because it is sensitive to many holidays, both secular ones such as Thanksgiving as well as religious ones such as Christmas and Passover. Should it be sensitive to those holidays? Of course it should. Schools are traditionally closed on those days. Should it then be closed on Dwali as well? How about Ramadan? How about Druid holidays? There must be at least one Druid attending city public schools. Schools may not lead prayer. They may not set aside rooms or designate special areas for prayer. To do so sets us all down that slippery slope, and the school system has enough problems without that particular problem clogging the agenda.

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