Skokie School District 68 is taking a big step forward in acknowledging the district's shifting demographics by announcing they will add the Muslim holiday Eid ul Adha as a day off to the 2013-14 school calendar, according to the Pioneer Press (a sister paper of the Sun-Times). District 68 Superintendent Frances McTague told the Pioneer Press, "This was the first year I've been approached by a parent as to why we take two Jewish days off and no Muslim day off." The school district also plans to observe Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday.
It's the opposite track taken by other nearby school districts who have responded to shifting religious demographics by not observing any religious holidays. Eid ul Adha is one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar along with Eid ul Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan. In 2013, the holiday will be observed on Tuesday, October 15, [PDF] giving students a four-day weekend as it follows Columbus Day (Monday, October 14).
The topic of schools observing Muslim holidays has been the source of debate across the country in recent years. Things got ugly in the Broward School District near Miami, Florida last fall when the issue of observing the two most important Muslim holidays came up. While supporters of the holiday cited high absenteeism on those holidays as a good reason for observing the holidays, not everyone was for a diverse range of observed holidays. Protesters outside the Broward meeting were holding signs that said "Protect Our Children No Holiday For Perverted Cult" and "Teach Math Not Sharia."
In 2009, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that city's schools would not observe Muslim holidays when the City Council wanted to impose such holidays; Bloomberg cited the wide diversity of the city's school population as a reason. Meanwhile, several supporters of closing on those holidays have cited Dearborn, Michigan which has closed on those holidays for over a decade due to the school district's demographic make-up. And a superintendent in Cambridge, MA said, over the decision to observe those Muslim holidays, "People were upset with us, but we took it as affirmation that the decision was right."
While the debate of religious inclusion isn't going away, that the decisions are becoming part of public discourse is a positive sign as to the country's slow recognition of its changing religious make-up as a whole; according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau [PDF], the number of self-described adults who consider themselves Muslim nearly tripled from 1990 to 2008.
Still, there are those who seem dead-set against recognizing reality. Cal Thomas, a contributor at (where else?) Fox News, told that network in a 2010 story:
"It is instructive to me that schools are going out of their way to discriminate against Christians by denying them the right to voluntarily pray with coaches and other players before games, but those same schools bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim student athletes for Ramadan," Thomas told FoxNews.com.
"This is worse than a double standard. It is singling out one religion and giving it priority over all others. And that is, or ought to be, unconstitutional."
Besides managing to somehow find a way to show that Christians in 21st Century America are being persecuted, Thomas also showed a blind spot to this country's extensive history with racial and religious oppression, one that continues in violent and deadly ways today. But Thomas is far from alone in picking nits and twisting stories to fit a hideous agenda to make violence against other cultures seem overblown by a nefarious liberal media bias.
While there is truth to the idea that a school district can't possibly accommodate every religious holiday that may be observed, the growing number of Muslim in students in American students deserve to have their holidays and religion properly addressed in an adult manner. With smaller cities like Dearborn, Cambridge, and, now, Skokie, setting the standard, there's hope that the rest of the country may soon come to terms with the country's ever-changing racial and religious make-up and that "melting pot" in a respectable manner.