In August of 2008, math teacher Safoorah Khan asked her employer for a 19-day leave in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that December. Her employer, the school district in the tiny Chicago suburb of Berkeley, refused on the grounds that she’d be missing nearly three weeks during crucial end-of-semester testing. Khan then resigned and made the trek, called a hajj – one the five pillars of Islam. After reviewing the case, Justice Department lawyers filed an unorthodox lawsuit against the school district, claiming that they’d violated Khan’s civil rights - in essence prompting her to choose between her job and her faith. Islamic leaders have championed the suit, stating that “It rings the bell of justice that they will fight for a Muslim wanting to perform a religious act.” But some in the legal community are accusing the Obama administration of overreaching and pandering to Muslims. Where is the line as for religious freedom in the workplace? Is the Justice Department defending religious rights or going too far?
Michael W. McConnell, Director, Stanford Constitutional Law Center; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution