The recent controversy in Tampa over religious school holidays started when the Hillsborough County School Board voted, after much debate, to do away with school religious holidays. The board voted 6 to 1 to give Hilsborough County students three secular days off instead. A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations described the move as “Just an excuse to hide bias against the Muslims,” and the president of the Florida Council of Churches called the action “petty.”
O’Reilly’s take? “And to have these radical changes because somebody walks in and says, ‘Look, I want a holiday because I’m a Buddhist, or I practice Shintoism. … [W]hat are you, crazy?’ “
According to O’Reilly, 85% of Americans identify as Christian (according to Media Matters for America, the correct figure is 77%), so it would be “fascist” to do away with recognition of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. An argument could be made, of course, that Native Americans did not practice Christianity until some of them were “converted,” but when we are discussing the nation’s religious heritage, we like to pretend that Native Americans do not exist. There is also a strong argument, bsaed on that prickly thing called historical fact, that the founding fathers were, for the most part, not Christian, but no one wants to hear that one, either.
At any rate, acknowledging that most Americans do identify as Christian today, it does not seem unreasonable to grant school children their Christian holidays off. But even a member of the Hillsborough County School Board showed a certain degree of cynicism about that when she declared Good Friday a secular holiday: “It is now about the Easter Bunny…They have taken religion out of it completely.”
Certainly any student observing a serious religious holiday should be excused from school, and the Hillsborough County’s school board agrreed to continue its policy of excusing a student who is observing such a day. The entire discussion became moot two weeks after the vote, however, when the board re-instated the religious holidays. Board members received 3,500 emails, many of which stated that Muslims were “foreigners” who did not deserve to have their religious holidays recognized by a Judeo-Christian culture.
As for O’Reilly, he has always advocated that America equals Christianity, and on paper, I suppose it does. But the Muslim religion is a major world religion, no matter what O’Reilly and the people of Tampa think of it. And more important, this is just not a good time in our history to imply that American Muslims are mentally impaired.