The Justice Department’s involvement in a lawsuit against an Illinois school district on the grounds that the school system violated the civil rights of a Muslim woman has triggered a debate among lawyers and legal scholars about whether the administration is taking the proper role in the dispute. .
Safoorah Khan, a teacher in the district, wanted to take three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca, a requirement of all adult Muslims. However, after only working in the school district for nine months, the Berkeley school district denied her request. Khan resigned and went anyway.
The lawsuit has stirred debate among some who believe that the federally-backed suit is just a political stunt by the Obama administration to gain more approval in the Muslim community.
“It sounds like a very dubious judgment and a real legal reach,” Michael B. Mukasey, attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, told The Washington Post. “The upper reaches of the Justice Department should be calling people to account for this [suit].”
Others haven’t gone that far, but say that Khan’s request was not reasonable and thus should not be protected under the constitution.
“The key word here is reasonable,” said Mercedes Colwin, a Fox News legal analyst. “It doesn’t say absolute accommodations. It doesn’t say unequivocal accommodations.
“Basically the school came forward and said ‘Wait a minute, this is an undue hardship for us,’” she continued.
Justice Department officials said that they’re just trying to uphold the law and make sure no American is discriminated against.
“Employees should not have to choose between their religious practice and their livelihood,” Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “Federal law prohibits employers from treating employees and applicants less favorably because of their religion, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs and practices of their employees.”
Khan originally filed suit in 2008. The DOJ joined the fight in December.