Mona Charen
The village of Berkeley, Ill., 15 miles west of Chicago, is small enough to proclaim its population (5,245) on its welcome sign. It is also small enough to escape mention in the national news -- most of the time.

But the village, which, according to The Washington Post, is majority African-American and Hispanic, has attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice. The department is suing the Berkeley School District on behalf of a former teacher.

Here are the facts: Safoorah Khan, 29, was hired to teach middle school math in November 2007. According to her lawyer, she was happy in her job, which included preparing sixth- through eighth-graders for state tests, and running the "math lab." After nine months on the job, Khan requested a three-week leave of absence in order to perform the hajj -- the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are obliged to undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it.

Employers are required by law to honor requests for religious accommodations provided that they do not impose "undue hardship" on the employer or other employees. Berkeley officials maintained that a three-week absence in December -- which would have denied the school its only math lab instructor right before exams -- was unreasonable and was not covered by the teachers' union contract. They denied her request. Khann decided to make the trip anyway and submitted her resignation.

She also submitted a letter of complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that the school board's refusal to grant the 19-day leave amounted to religious discrimination.

"They put her in a position where she had to choose," her lawyer, Kamran A. Memon, told the Post, and this revealed "anti-Muslim hostility."

The town's former mayor disagreed. "The school district just wanted a teacher in the room for those three weeks," said Michael A. Esposito. "They didn't care if she was a Martian, a Muslim or a Catholic."

Now the Justice Department has taken up her case. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez explains that he took the case in part to combat "a real head wind of intolerance against Muslim communities" and that Khan's lawsuit seeks to ratify the "religious liberty that our forefathers came to this country for." Perez has spoken before of his belief, shared by Attorney General Eric Holder, that "our Muslim-American brothers and sisters" have been the victims of a post-9/11 backlash.

Now we see how Perez and Holder can assert that Muslim-Americans are suffering a "backlash." If they can see religious discrimination in Khan's case, it's no wonder they see it under every mattress.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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