What makes established religions so special?

The Justice Dept. is intervening in a case of a Muslim teacher outside Chicago who quit her job because her school would not let her take 3 weeks off at the end of the semester to go to Mecca. The story is here.

The suit argued that the district violated the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate Khan’s religious beliefs. By “compelling” Khan to choose between her job and religion, the lawsuit says, the district forced her discharge. The government is seeking back pay, damages and reinstatement for Khan, and a court order requiring Berkeley schools to find ways to accommodate religious practices.

By forbidding the school from compelling Khan to choose between her job and her religious belief, the Justice Department is compelling people like me (atheists) to choose between the worldview we have (materialism) and the worldview which we’d need to fake (theism) in order to get a 3 week leave of absence.

But maybe the Justice Department only rewards true believers – would they back me up if I took 3 weeks off to go on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem with my Church, but then found me estranged from my Church group and drinking in bar in Las Vegas after 2.5 weeks?

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8 Responses to What makes established religions so special?

  1. ses says:

    i wouldn’t categorize atheism as a religion, but there are difficulties with simply considering it to be a lack of religion. it counts as a zero in this situation, as you’ve mentioned – you don’t “get” to have any religious practices to accommodate.

    allowing her an additional 3 weeks off seems to itself be in violation of civil rights since it would be giving preferential treatment to Muslims. to be truly impartial they should allow everyone equal time off to practice what they will (atheists like you: drinking). or they could let teachers take vacation at their own chosen times during the year, rather than only at christmas and spring breaks.

  2. admin says:

    I agree with your proposal. But unfortunately Obama does not seem to be moving in that direction, although he did give a shout-out to atheists in his inaugural address.

    Maybe we need to wait until we start waging wars against atheistic countries, then liberals will claim that we are fighting precisely because we hate atheism, and then we’ll have the political momentum we need to establish an atheist lobby and become a protected group.

  3. Gippetto says:

    The law is designed to give a place in our economy to the sizable chunk of the population that believes they might go to Hell if they don’t perform certain rituals. From a utilitarian point of view an insurance policy designed to protect the piece of mind of lots of people makes sense. This is why some insurance plans pay for alternative medicines that are sold by shamans.

    You are welcome to lie and say you believe in Allah so you can take three weeks off. Doing so would probably cause you less anguish than if you were a Muslim who thought the school administrators were going to cast you into the fiery pit of Islamic hell.

  4. admin says:

    That is an interesting point.

    The government, if it is truly concerned about the mental anguish of these people, would be better off doing something closer to the opposite of what it is doing now: being upfront with people about the fact that their religious beliefs are generally zany and likely to cause to mental anguish (or at least wasted time) rather than alleviate it. Many republican lawmakers don’t believe this, but I believe that Obama does, and he feels that he can’t afford to say it. Maybe he will do this service to believers during his second term, when he won’t need to worry about political capital anymore.

    I wonder whether it is in fact true that religious people who are forbidden from performing certain rituals feel more mentally anguished than atheists who are forbidden from taking 3 week beach vacations when they like to. If religious people actually were as worried about Hell as they claim to be, they would probably be spending about half the year performing rituals and going on pilgrimages of different kinds, willing to accept a 50% pay cut in order to cut down the probability of eternal damnation. We shouldn’t be so easily persuaded by religious people on this issue.

  5. Heather, Wilmette Il says:

    I don’t think the president can say religious beliefs are “zany”. That would be very insulting.
    I think it is only just to give everyone an equal amount of time off for whatever they want WITHOUT PAY. Employers should be legally free to let these employees go and hire others who want to work more.
    Beatrice Griffon

  6. Jonathan says:

    He could use a word other than zany, but I think it would be good if he were upfront with us about his religious beliefs, at least in his 2nd term. And I agree, the ideal solution is that religion has nothing to do with whether you can take leave.

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