Teachers Sue For Right to Worship on Good Friday

iStock_000008492734_SmallA lawsuit has been filed by teachers in Cranston, Rhode Island who say their civil rights were violated when the city’s school department turned down their requests to observe Good Friday.

The Washington Post is reporting on the controversy which began when 200 teachers contacted the teacher’s union to report that they were being prevented from taking off on Good Friday to attend services at their church even though they had given the required 24 hours’ notice of wanting the time off.

Even more galling is that the denial comes after teachers’ requests to observe the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah in the fall were approved.

“That’s my big concern here, is equity,” said Liz Larkin, president of the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance.

According to Kevin Daley, the attorney representing the union, teachers’ are permitted to take up to two days off per school year to observe religious holidays. Their contract does not specify restrictions on religious observances.

“They can take them if there are required services that take place during the school day,” Daley said. “And Good Friday is regarded by Christians as certainly the most solemn of days of the church calendar.”

However, school superintendent Judith Lundsten issued a statement saying that the teachers’ contracts specify they may take a holiday if they are required to attend religious services during the school day. Because Good Friday has “no required services,” their requests were denied.

Teachers were permitted to take off on Rosh Hashanah because they are not permitted to work on that holiday.

“From our perspective, this is about a calendar that was agreed upon and passed by the school committee nine months ago,” Lundsten said.

The committee voted to hold classes on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday this year.

However, the union wants the committee to reinstate the holidays.

“This is the first year in many in decades that they have not been in the calendar,” Larkin said.

The suit, however, is merely asking that teachers be permitted to exercise their contractual rights by taking these religious observation days.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, is applauding the teachers’ suit and says the school district’s arguments are specious.

“ . . . (I)t is not the business of government agents to assess holy days, or religious traditions, weighing them on their state scale,” Donohue said. “Moreover, these same public school officials allowed Jews to take off Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Did they really think that their attempt to stiff Christians would not backfire?”

He went on to criticize school officials for demanding proof that Good Friday services are held at area churches.

“If they were practicing Christians, they wouldn’t have to ask such a dumb question. Christian teachers in Cranston should simply call in sick on Good Friday and let the officials scream all they want.”

If the issue is satisfying the minimum number of school days that are required by state law, which would not be unreasonable, Donohue suggests that all traditional holidays, including secular, be considered for reevaluation such as Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day.

A hearing on the suit is scheduled for March 30.

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