91. Religious Holidays

The Constitution says there aren’t supposed to be any laws abridging freedom of religion in this country. Considering the way religion has been treated around the world throughout history, I think we’ve done a relatively good job so far. But that same document was written “to form a more perfect union.” So I guess we’ve got some more work to do.
There’s a Friday just before Easter when many teachers and children either go to school instead of practice their religion, or miss school to practice it. My religion has three important holidays in the early fall, and I missed a total of about 36 days of grade school over the years. (Could that be when football rules and research skills were taught?) In an honest attempt to respect these religions, school officials today sometimes remind teachers not to teach anything new, significant, or especially interesting during these holidays. If teachers comply with this policy, they will teach relatively boring, old, trivial things.
According to teachers’ contracts, teachers are usually allowed a few school days to tend to their personal business. Religious holidays, unless they are observed by the whole town, often fall into the category of personal business. There is never school during Christmas or Easter, so at least two Christian holidays are protected. And the most important Jewish holiday, the Sabbath, is also protected.
But there are four important holidays left, by my count – Good Friday, two days of Rosh Hashanna, and Yom Kippur. In many towns, school is in session during these holidays. This means teachers who don’t celebrate these holidays can use their personal days to do personal business, those who celebrate Good Friday can use fewer, and we can use even fewer.
This is a problem for many teachers every year. Some towns have recognized the problem, and decided not to have school on these days. Of course, towns with large Jewish and Catholic populations tend to do so more than towns that are predominantly Protestant (I realize that Catholicism does not have a monopoly on Good Friday, but I haven’t yet learned about its importance in various Protestant traditions). But there are even towns with only a few Jews and Catholics who decide to honor their minorities.
I realize that in a way, I’m oversimplifying this issue. I don’t know about Tet, Bodhi Day, or any other holidays celebrated by religions that are even more in the minority than mine. And I don’t know how important it is in each religion to observe the various holidays as full days of worship or celebration. I’m sure that we could just about eliminate school altogether if we tried to include all religious holidays. But I do think the issue needs attention in towns that have Catholic and/or Jewish populations.

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