Opinion: The War on Toleration

It’s only mid-November, and we already have faced our “first salvo this season in the ongoing war on Christmas,” remarked Bill O’Reilly, adding, “They just wiped out all our traditions because [of] these people.”

“These people” are the Muslim community of Montgomery County, the largest school district in Maryland. “These people” sought to have Muslim holidays recognized on the school calendar. Instead, the school board, in an act of bigotry, removed all mention of religious holidays from next year’s calendar. They would rather have no mention of religion than add in Muslim tradition.

Let’s be clear, the same Jewish and Christian holidays that corresponded with school closings are very much still a part of the calendar, albeit with the name removed. In other words, not much has changed. The school board cited the separation of church and state as a primary motivator, adding that the closures that remain reflect days of high absenteeism, and the closures are simply for operational reasons. This lame-duck argument and asinine decision has, unsurprisingly, been met with serious criticism from all different social groups.

The group that originally requested the addition of Muslim holidays is infuriated, seeing the removal as a premature departure of named holidays, a slight to Muslim tradition. Rightly so, they see the decision as a conscious rejection of the legitimacy of Muslim faith. On the other hand, people like Bill O’Reilly blame the Muslim community for ruining Christian tradition.

It’s clear that the board made the wrong choice. But, what is so problematic about this decision is that it is such a large step backwards. The underlying issue that society has faced since the beginning of time is religious toleration, or on a more basic level, coexistence. This makes that’s ideal even harder to reach. In the 21st century, it is quite obvious that humans still cannot set aside ideological differences for the better of mankind.

By choosing to eradicate mention of religion instead of accept it’s existence and importance in society, the board is falling prey to the object-permanence of a game of peekaboo with a newborn: “If I can’t see it, it’s not there.” This strategy, manifested on such a stage, is nothing more than a defense mechanism. For whatever reason, they felt threatened by the acceptance of the Muslim faith. There is no point is debasing this line of logic, because it is quite simply illogical.

It is the very nature of this decision, and its context, that deserves more attention. This is a school system, an institution that is charged with educating our youth. And, yet, removal from the calendar seems to imply ignorance or denial of one of the most important facets of our society: religion.

Religion has been the single biggest contributor to human conflict since the beginning of time. Ideological differences fuel war and strife, and augment poverty and oppression around the world. It seems the only way to solve these massive social issues globally is to confront the issue of religion. What better place is there to start the conversation and education on this topic than in our schools?

Public schools have the opportunity to provide an unbiased survey of religious history, allowing students to form their own opinions and beliefs. Even in religiously affiliated institutions, it is the imperative of the schools to educate a wide array of beliefs in order to legitimately proclaim their own.

This would not be easy. It would certainly cause considerable backlash, and it may not be the right solution. But optional seminars, discussions, and panels facilitated by schools would help to educate and inform youth about the vast issues the global community faces today.

This education cannot come if all traces of religion are removed from the Calendar of a school, or worse, the curriculum. Religion is certainly a controversial topic, but it is one that is far too important to humankind to ignore. It is our job, as global citizens, to push the bar of progress forward, not cower in fear. It is anyone’s guess what the world will shape up to be in the future, and it could very well be a worse place. But we need to have the tough discussions now and confront our fears for the possibility of a better future.

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Nicholas Reed