Berkeley schools sued over denial of Muslim pilgrimage

Posted on December 14, 2010


December 14, 2010

The federal government has sued a west suburban school district for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion.

In a civil rights case, the department said the school district in Berkeley denied the request of Safoorah Khan on grounds that her requested leave was unrelated to her professional duties and was not set forth in the contract between the school district and the teachers union.

In doing so, the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices, the government said.

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

Khan started as a middle school teacher for Berkeley School District 87 – about 15 miles west of Chicago – in 2007. In 2008, she asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform the Hajj. After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote the board that “based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj,” and resigned shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago.

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

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