Rejection of Muslim Pilgrimage Spurs US to Sue Suburban Chicago School District

12/14/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, US // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan

Chicago, IL—The United States Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, alleging a Chicago-area school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to information provided by NPR, the lawsuit was filed after Berkeley School District 87 officials denied a Muslim middle school teacher’s requests to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a very significant part of her religion.

Reports indicated Safoorah Khan began working as a middle school teacher within the Berkeley School District 87, located approximately 15 miles west of Chicago, in 2007. In 2008, she requested nearly three weeks of unpaid leave so she could perform the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Adult Muslims who are physically and financially able to perform the Hajj are supposed to do so at least once in their life. Millions of Muslims take part in the pilgrimage on an annual basis.

School district officials denied her requested unpaid leave twice, allegedly stating that the voyage was irrelevant to her job. Berkeley School District 87 also supposedly claimed a contact between the school district and the teachers union did not require them to OK her requests.

According to the pending civil rights lawsuit, the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which “an employer is required to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.”

Khan wrote a letter to the school district after her requests for unpaid leave were repeatedly denied. In the letter she explained that “based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj.”

The lawsuit claims the school district forced Khan to choose between keeping her job or taking part in a religious journey that was of great importance to her. The middle school teacher subsequently resigned from her position.

Khan filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2008. The EEOC forwarded her case to the U.S. Justice Department after finding reasonable grounds to believe that Khan had been discriminated against.

The case is underway.

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan– Legal News for Illinois Civil Rights Lawyers.

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