Christmas and Easter have been stricken from next year’s school calendar in Montgomery County. So have Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
Montgomery’s Board of Education voted 7 to 1 Tuesday to eliminate references to all religious holidays on the published calendar for 2015-2016, a decision that followed a request from Muslim community leaders to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.
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.
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. (Donna St. George, “Holidays’ Names Stricken from Next Year’s Montgomery Schools Calendar,” The Washington Post, November 11.)
The move by the Montgomery County (MD) Board of Education to cease recognizing religious holidays seems to concern budgets. The school system retains traditional Jewish and Christian religious holidays on their academic calendar due to the scores of children who will miss school by choice on these days. They do not recognize the days because they are religious days. Instead, they recognize them because opening schools on these days would not be the best use of resources. Seemingly, therefore, the issue for the board is economics, not religion. So the request for recognition of a Muslim holy day is rebuffed; it is not (yet) economically necessary.
I would love to explore the religious beliefs of the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education. I am wondering if this was a vote by a body predominantly non-religious in individual practice, or a group of whom several would hold to a false fact/value dichotomy with respect to religious ideas. But board members don’t post their religious beliefs with their biographies. Certainly that portion of their personal lives now will be kept from public consumption.
What then is the message we should take from a State action such as this? Here are some options:
- If you can gather a significantly sizable student pool, you can create your own holiday on whatever academic calendar day you wish. You simply need enough members of your group to be absent the same day or days every year in order to force the hands of the Board of Education.
- Christians and Jews would be wise to stand up in the Public Square for the religious concerns of Muslims. The issues of not adding and not recognizing religious holidays are not issues of Religious Freedom. Muslim families can practice their beliefs associated with their holidays, including pulling their children from school on such days if desired or needful. Then they can write notes to the schools to cover the absences of their children. An issue of the wisdom of the State toward religious groups will remain. Thus, no major religious group should sit on the sidelines and watch another get pummeled. With kindness, it would be wise to clear the bench on such issues, or soon there will not be a need for this bench within your school system.
- Churches in our community should begin to think seriously about speaking with local politicians about the value our religious holidays hold. Remember too, however, that days off are not necessary for us to maintain the faith and practice of the holidays. The death of Christ for sin, his resurrection from the dead, and his offer of eternal life to all who believe on him are things Christians can celebrate privately, daily, publicly, and corporately at least once a week, uniquely on Christmas and Easter, and on all of the other special days we have created in our churches. These celebrations do not require days off, except for a day to maintain the New Testament appropriation of the Sabbath regulations.
Either way, based on the Montgomery County Board of Education’s deliberations and decisions, I want to see if I can get another day off school for my children in our county. I would need it to be a non-religious holiday that will create a large enough absentee base to force a school board to see that it would be wise to codify a full day off. Also, I do not want to risk another crashing of our pluralistic car into the Wall of Separation. So I need all of the NBA fans near me to boycott school the day of the third game of the NBA finals each year so we can force the creation of B-Ballinday. It will be a few years before the WNBA and MLS fan bases will be devout enough to give the school board members any further concerns.
(If you have not yet read D. A. Carson’s, The Intolerance of Tolerance, I would suggest that you should hurry to get a copy and read it over this weekend or the coming week.) (Kindle version)