City of Brass

City of Brass


muslim holidays in prison versus school

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

One thing missing from the arguments of most poliitical opponents of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court is actual data – such as her legal written opinions from decades of serving on the bench. The SCOTUS Blog has done true yeoman’s work in going through these records and has published a number of case studies that are worth highlighting for insights. Of these, I found this case rather interesting.

[I]n Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 382 (2d Cir. 2003), Sotomayor wrote an opinion that reversed a district court decision holding that a Muslim inmate’s First Amendment rights had not been violated because the holiday feast that he was denied was not a mandatory one in Islam. Sotomayor held that the inmate’s First Amendment’s rights were violated because the feast was subjectively important to the inmate’s practice of Islam.

That seems the right decision to me, mainly because the inmate’s observance of the holiday does not infringe on anyone else. In general, religious observances should be accomodated in such situations where there is no conflict.

In contrast, however, consider the case of a school district in New Haven, CT which is considering adding two holidays in observance of Eid ul Adha and Eid ul Fitr to the school calendar. The problem with this proposal is that it starts to cut into the number of days school is in session. Accomodating the (minority) of muslim students on this compels the district to also accomodate Jewish students as well, so the number of additional holidays will need to increase. Ultimately it is simply more efficient to allow students to take some number of excused absences a year for religious observances and let them allocate it on a personal basis. That said, there is a reasonable expectation that the school itself not schedule major exams, etc on major holidays for minority-faith students either. There needs to be a balance.

This makes for a curious irony that inmates in prison have more religious “freedom” per se than do students in school (though the latter surely see themselves as akin to the former in spirit).



  • paagle

    Ultimately it is simply more efficient to allow students to take some number of excused absences a year for religious observances and let them allocate it on a personal basis. That said, there is a reasonable expectation that the school itself not schedule major exams, etc on major holidays for minority-faith students either. There needs to be a balance.
    Amen! Sometimes the solution to these sorts of things is so simple you wonder about the motives of those that can’t see it – on either side.

  • Your Name

    SPIRIT OF FREEDOM SHOULD BE EXERCISED IN ALL ASPECTS OF OUR LIVES
    AND RESTRICTIONS SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY OR PROPERLY APPLIED,LIKE
    RELIGIOUS EXERCISES,WE ARE ALL ENTITLED FOR FREEDOM OF PRACTICE AS LONG AS THERE IS NO ACTS OF VIOLENCE OF ANY FORM OR KIND,AS LONG AS
    IT IS PERMITTED BY THE LAW TO WHERE WE EXERCISE THAT FREEDOM,I DON’T
    SEE ANY INVALIDATION.

  • Sharifah

    Schools should close for the Eids just like they close for Jewish holidays & Christmas.There is a larger Muslim student population than Jewish student & faculty population in many large city schools.The days closed should be redistributed like some city & state governments & the federal government.I am a public employee who was given personal days in exchange for Jewish holidays & other civic holidays.I use my personal days for holidays & annual days for religious observence. Some school districts pay a reduced rate for religious days which is unfair.
    P.S. I would like to comment on some previous articles. There is a difference between OBLIGATORY actions, recommended actions & compulsion in ISLAM. Muslims should seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave & not rely on hearsay. A person who closes schools & does not allow the education of people is a dangerous person & will answer to ALLAH(swt).ALLAH makes muslims.

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    Houses and cars are expensive and not everyone is able to buy it. Nevertheless, loan are invented to aid different people in such hard situations.

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