Are ‘Foot Baths’ Reasonable Accommodation?


Public schools go dark on Saturdays and Sundays, the traditional days of worship for Christians and Jews. And on Christmas, class will not be in session. But when schools provide foot baths for Muslims, critics cry foul. So what is acceptable in a country that has a wall between church and state?

A few months ago, I had dinner with a prominent Evangelical Christian who insists that Christians are "persecuted" in the USA. Although we had a friendly discussion -- and he generously paid for my dinner -- I did think he was exaggerating a bit. So I asked him two questions:

First, could he identify any country in the world where there is more religious freedom than in the USA?

He could not. Nor can I.

Second, could he name any time in the history of the United States when Evangelical Christians have had more religious freedom (and political influence) than they do now?



He could not. Nor can I.



There are, of course, several reasons why there is more religious freedom in the USA than elsewhere. One of them is that we have an Establishment Clause in our Constitution that helps keep the government from getting into the religion business. The unfortunate consequences of government financing religion and choosing religious beliefs can be seen all over the world.



The majority view



Another is that we have a healthy respect for the right of individuals and families to practice their religion without government interference. The United States is particularly good at accommodating the core religious practices of majority religions. Public schools do not (usually) hold classes on Saturday and Sunday (worship days for Christians and Jews). Public schools are also closed on two of the majority religion's most sacred holidays, Christmas and Easter, the latter of which is of course always on Sunday. Majorities may be more likely to notice the unusual accommodation for others and take their own for granted.



While some religious accommodations are constitutional and to be encouraged, some cross the line and promote particular beliefs. (MORE)



T. Jeremy Gunn is the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's program on freedom of religion and belief.

 


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