The Berkeley School District in Illinois services a predominantly black and Hispanic student population of about 5,200. Not exactly swimming in cash, for no good reason they were forced to spend valuable resources defending themselves in federal court when the DOJ classified their refusal to accommodate math teacher Safoorah Khan’s request in 2008 for three weeks leave in middle of the fall semester as discriminatory and indicative of a “post-9/11 backlash”.
Khan had only been with the district nine months when she demanded time off for a Muslim required once in a lifetime trip to Mecca. At 29 years old and new to the job, there was no compelling reason for her employers to grant the request, and they told her so. With the December exams fast approaching and as the only math lab instructor for the school, the district felt the students couldn’t afford to lose her expertise at that critical time. As explained by the former mayor of Berkeley, Michael A. Esposito, “The school district just wanted a teacher in the room for those three weeks. They didn’t care if she was a Martian, a Muslim, or a Catholic.”
Rather than looking after the needs of her students and living up to her responsibilities, Khan quit and filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for religious discrimination.
Laws governing religious accommodation are clear in that they do not impose “undue hardship” on an employer. Less than a year on the job and with a lifetime ahead of her to make the pilgrimage, Khan’s request not only imposed “undue hardship” on the students, but reflected the priorities of someone who probably had no business working with children in the first place. Writing for National Review Online Mona Charin argued “doesn’t Islam also forbid breaking a contract or leaving children in the lurch?”
The DOJ initiated the lawsuit in March 2011, which just so happened to coincide with Obama’s backtracking on the closure of Guantanamo Bay. This made quite a few pundits wonder if the DOJ’s motivation was somewhat less than noble. Hans von Spakovsky, a civil rights official in the Bush administration, commented “no jury anywhere would think that a teacher leaving for three weeks during a crucial time at the end of a semester is reasonable… This is a political lawsuit to placate Muslims.”
Not having sufficient funds to fight the case in court, the Berkeley School District submitted to the DOJ’s will and paid “$75,000 in lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees” to Khan and agreed to “provide mandatory training on religious accommodations to all board of education members and school supervisors.”