0

News from '09 includes defining holidays and Jews

Here are three stories from last year I had no time to mention:

WHAT COUNTS AS A RELIGIOUS SCHOOL HOLIDAY?

The Wall Street Journal reports (Sept. 15) that schools around the nation are studying how to approach the religious holidays of their students. The New York City public school system is facing this issue because the Muslim community has asked the schools to make two of their faith's holy days into school holidays. I suspect that the mere mention of such a subject will bring groans to many Christians, used to having complete dominance when it comes to school holidays and already upset that these holidays are no longer called "Christmas vacation" or "Easter vacation."

But think again. There are 100,000 Muslim children in the New York City public school system, representing 10 percent of the school population. Schools there are already closed for Yom Kippur, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Passover.

As our nation becomes more multicultural, it is predictable that any school system that observes one religion's sacred holiday will be faced with the issue of fairness from other world religions, too.

WHO IS A JEW?

The New York Times (Nov. 8) reports on an intractable problem in the United Kingdom. Britain's Supreme Court is faced with the question of deciding who is a Jew and who gets to make the decision. Such an issue would never be addressed in the American court system, but in England this becomes pertinent to the court because government money supports many religious schools.

One particular school for Jewish students is involved in a bitter dispute over whether a certain student is Jewish or not. The child's father is Jewish, but the mother is a Jewish convert only, and this particular school ruled that mother and son were not Jewish. The family belonged to a progressive synagogue, and the government, following the definition of a Jew set by England's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, initially agreed that the child wasn't Jewish. But an appellate court ruled that this was discrimination, throwing the fight back into the court system.

Is a person Jewish because of heritage or because of the profession of faith? Jewish proponents for both sides fiercely defend their position, making one extremely glad that our judicial system leaves these matters for the religious community to fight out on their own.

CAN A MUSLIM FIND RESPECT IN SWITZERLAND?

All news outlets reported last December on Switzerland's overwhelming vote (58 percent, won in 22 out of 26 cantons) to ban the construction of minarets in their nation. There are only four minarets in Switzerland now, and none of them can call adherents to prayer because of strict noise rules. But the right-wing party led the charge for the new law. Only 5 percent of the Swiss are Muslim, and the nation that prided itself on welcoming immigrants now has much work to do as the Swiss try to repair their image.

Contact columnist minister Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.