BERKELEY, Ill. — Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no. Khan, a devout Muslim, resigned and made the trip anyway.Justice Department lawyers examined the same set of facts and reached a different conclusion: that the school district’s decision amounted to outright discrimination against Khan. They filed an unusual lawsuit, accusing the district of violating her civil rights by forcing her to choose between her job and her faith.As the case moves forward in federal court in Chicago, it has triggered debate over whether the Justice Department was following a purely legal path or whether suing on Khan’s behalf was part of a broader Obama administration campaign to reach out to Muslims.The decision to take on a small-town school board has drawn criticism from conservatives and Berkeley officials, who say the government should not be standing behind a teacher who wanted to leave her students.The lawsuit, filed in December, may well test the boundaries of how far employers must go to accommodate workers’ religious practices — a key issue as the nation grows more multicultural and the Muslim population increases. But it is also raising legal questions. Experts say the government might have difficulty prevailing because the 19-day leave Khan requested goes beyond what courts have considered.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
From Jerry Markon of The Washington Post on March 22: