Monday, April 9, 2012

State University will no longer cancel classes for Christian, Jewish holidays


            This article from Fox News discusses the decision made recently in regards to a New York university cancelling classes for Christian and Jewish holidays.  State University of New York at Stony Brook decided to no longer cancel classes on Christian and Jewish holidays.  The decision was made in an effort “to ensure that some religions are not given special treatment and to ‘afford equal support and equal respect to students and faculty from all faiths’”.  The article lists holidays of these two faiths that would be affected: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Holy Week for Jews and Good Friday for Christians.  Charles Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education, wants to take all religions into consideration while maximizing instructional times for students, therefore, the state funded university and he found it most beneficial to follow through with the decision.  He clearly states that he acknowledges all concerns, but a small number of people are upset.  The university and he want to make sure there is no “special treatment”.  The university is confident that the decision to stop cancelling classes for these religious holidays ensures no “special treatment”.
            I am in agreement with this decision.  If the policy of cancelling classes for Christian and Jewish holidays were to be subjected to the Lemon Test, it would fail all three prongs of the three-prong test.  Passing this decision is a safe guard for the university to avoid possible future lawsuits.  I am surprised no lawsuits have been taken to court in regards to class cancellation.  The university is correct in its passing of the decision because it does offer no “special treatment” of a religion, group of people, or individual.  By not cancelling classes for specific religious holidays, all religions are taken into consideration. 
            Due to the university’s status as being a state funded university, the university falls under a governmental entity.  Therefore, it is the university’s duty to adhere to the constitution in all of its policies.  If the new policy were to be questioned as unconstitutional, it would be subjected to the Lemon Test within the courts.  The new policy would in fact pass the Lemon Test’s three-prong evaluation.  Number 1, the state funded university now has a secular purpose.  Before the change, it would be hard to say that the university’s purpose was purely religious and not secular; however, it would not have been deemed purely secular either.  Number two, the university is now not advancing Christianity and Judaism over other religions or inhibiting the other religions.  Pre-policy change, the university would be seen to advancing Christianity and Judaism over all other religions as well as inhibiting the other religions.  Number three, the university now does not have excessive entanglement with religion.  Previously, the university was excessively entangled with religion because it was allowing classes to be cancelled for certain religious holidays and because it was decreasing instructional time with the students for religious purposes.  I am confident that if a lawsuit were to come about due to the change in policy, it would not stand in a court of law.  The decision for the new policy would be deemed constitutional.  

13 comments:

Emrah K said...

It is correct that it is not advancing Christianity or Judaism but does not it push back them? Actually, I am not sure how to worship in these holy days of Christians and Judaism but as a Muslim, I have two religious celebrations each year, and there is a kind of worship which must be done with people together. When I want to participate it, if in that day there is an important class or an exam, what should I do? A professor may not give me permission for being absent. What is the solution? If I cannot participate it, it will be an obstacle my freedom of religion, if the university or professor gives to me a permission, it will be a special treatment.

Alexis A said...

While I see the point Emrah is making, I think the University is thinking in terms of the future. In recent years religious equality has become the subject of much debate, and it has become considerably less acceptable for any government entity to favor the dominate religions (i.e. Christianity, Judaism, etc). Because it is likely that such a trend will continue, the University is trying to prevent granting absences for every religious holiday. In order for a University to be successful in providing their students with a good education, the students must attend. If the University tried to accommodate all religions it would be impossible to maintain a higher standard of learning.

Aanal P. said...

I would have to agree with the university in rightfully denying the cancellation of classes due to Jewish and Christian holidays. Prior to this change in policy, the university was definitely in violation of the lemon test as you mentioned. It definitely aided the right to free-exercise of Christians and Jews. Not allowing this same aid to people of other faith showed the negligence of the university prior to this policy. If they allowed these holidays, then to uphold neutrality, they would have had to declare holidays on Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Bahia, Sikh, etc holy days. Obviously this would make it so that there would be more holidays than days of attendance and this would waste money and cause lack of time for imparting proper education. The only other way to uphold neutrality is to deny holidays for all faiths. It is up to members of all faiths to figure out how to manage school and religious life, whereas earlier all other religious groups except Christians and Jews had to manage. This is definitely a great leap forward to uphold neutrality and not violate the free exercise and establishment clause.

Gabe AB said...

One of the things that must be considered in a decision like this is the make-up of the student body. If you have a school that is made up of 99% Christian Students then it makes sense to have Christmas off, as the students would not show up anyway. However, most state schools have a wide range of religious students, so this makes sense from an establishment clause standpoint. Something that will be interesting will be how the schools handle absences on these days. Will they be excused because of religious reasons, or will the school demand attendance even on these days? How this question is answered is very important, and could spawn more lawsuits.

Rebekah said...

First, I'm confused as to whether this university now does not accept religious excuses as excused absences or simply will not cancel class for everyone on religious holidays?

Secondly, I think it is fair to state that the Lemon Test is not always applied even in cases where it would declare a clear victor. Even if it were applied I think it would be a heard case to make that a public university, like GSU, has a religious purpose or effect simply because it excuses or cancels classes on Christian and Jewish holidays (and lets be honest are most universities even canceling classes for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah? No). While I do see how a case for entanglement could be made I don't think I would call it excessive.

Honestly even if the courts went through all this, holidays would most likely continue to fall on Christian holidays since a majority of the population is Christian and wouldn't go to school then anyways and attendance would be a secular reason to cancel class.

Blake_S said...

I really like this article Amber. I think that this is a great issue to examine when discussing the privileged position of particular religions in the American society. I too agree with the decision of the school. It is a state university, thus the State holds complete control over its policy. This change in policy will be an interesting one to monitor because it is new and interesting. I believe that if not all religious holidays are observed then none should be observed. What is interesting is our discussion from class being examined in this way. To discuss fair treatment, are the religious students being considered in this decision? I don't know if I can agree with that but let's see where this goes.

Amisha P said...

I can see why the university is not cancelling classes on Christian and Jewish holidays. Every religion should be treated equally. Schools already have policies for students who have to miss class for a religious reason; I do not see why that cannot be carried out for Christian and Jewish holidays. Since it is a state school no one or two religions should be considered while making the holiday calendar. All the religions should be considered, and doing this is very difficult. So, not cancelling classes for any religious holidays is fair, this is not promoting or demoting any religions.

joycek said...

Not closing the university on Good Friday, particularly, is a big shift from the norm in this region. Many businesses close on that religious holiday up north because there is a large number of Catholics in that area. It has a local context, and understanding that history is helpful to understand why this is being discussed at all. However, I agree that with a religiously diverse nation and heightened awareness of this, the university should change their policy and not close for religious holidays if that privilege cannot be extended to all. The holidays mentioned do not have secular elements like Christmas has.

Christiana Torere said...

Wow! This article is very similar to what we have been discussing in class when it comes to favoring religions over others. I honestly think that the university is being fair, but Christians' are one of the majority religions and the turnout for class participation may be low. I am actually surprised the university came to this decision, because of these were two of the majority religions. Over the years inclusion of religion has been such a huge issue, and its shocking to see a big step made toward making it happen.

Christiana Torere said...

Wow! This article is very similar to what we have been discussing in class when it comes to favoring religions over others. I honestly think that the university is being fair, but Christians' are one of the majority religions and the turnout for class participation may be low. I am actually surprised the university came to this decision, because of these were two of the majority religions. Over the years inclusion of religion has been such a huge issue, and its shocking to see a big step made toward making it happen.

Sachin G said...

I totally agree with the university's policy and i think they being fair. Just because majority of people in US are Christians and Jewish, does not mean they should be given a preference over other religious folks.It is better for the university to be unbiased in every matter since they are state funded and run by the government. Its great to see that this university has taken such a big step towards putting every student on the same page regardless of their religion.

Anne G said...

Without a doubt this is a huge step. While extremely sensitive for many, after our class reading and case studies, this step seems inevitable. My only questions is whether the school is sending a message that disfavors religion altogether. While we in America are not bound to one religion - we are a religious people and a democracy. The establishment clause does not rule out nor exclude religion from playing a role in our society. This may be fair on the one hand, but problematic on the other.

jacobr said...

This was a very good article that dealt with a hot button issue. Yes, classes’ were being cancelled for a particular holiday of a religious nature seems to suggest that government is supporting one religion over another and there is obvious no secular purpose for cancelling classes.