web analytics
April 26, 2015 / 7 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Unreasonable Accommodations


Conflicts between the religious needs of minorities and those of the rest of society always have the potential to take a reasoned debate off the tracks.

That’s what happened when the otherwise trivial question of the hours of operation of a gym on Harvard University’s campus become a major cause célèbre.

The dispute centers on the request of six female Muslim Harvard students. Speaking with the support of the Harvard College Women’s Center, they point out that since their faith forbids them from wearing revealing clothing in the presence of men, the school ought to provide “women only” hours at one of its gymnasiums where they can work out in comfort.

The university responded positively, and since Feb. 4, no men have been allowed in the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic for sessions amounting to six hours per week.

Given the fact that this is but one of a number of such facilities on campus, and the hours set aside are but a fraction of the total available to everyone, the school probably assumed the concession was not a big deal.

If so, they were dead wrong.

The decision to exclude men from the gym has set off a furious debate not only at Harvard but also on the editorial pages of many of America’s leading newspapers.

Adding fuel to the fire was Harvard’s decision to allow the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast across the campus from the steps of the main library during the recent “Islam Awareness Week.”

Harvard computer-science professor Harry Lewis wrote in The Boston Globe that the university was being hypocritical since it upheld gender equality under other circumstances, but decided that Islam’s needs trumped other values. Moreover, he added, the school’s refusal to allow the military’s ROTC program on campus showed that its devotion to diversity (which Harvard claimed was at stake) was subject to exceptions based on the political popularity of the group in question.

On the other side of the debate, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus answered that “it’s reasonable to set aside a few off-peak hours at one of Harvard’s many gyms.” Identifying herself “as a member of another minority religion, Judaism,” she added that “it’s not offensive to have the call to prayer echoing across Harvard Yard, any more than it is to ring church bells or erect a giant menorah there.”

But is this just a reasonable accommodation to a few without damage to everyone else?

The answer is that there are limits to what a minority faith can expect in the way of accommodation.

Marcus herself cites the 1998 case of the “Yale 5,” a small group of Orthodox Jews who insisted that they could not conform to the school’s rules, which demanded that they live in one of the co-ed dorms on campus.

As one who reported on that story at the time, I remember well how that case generated support from conservatives around the country, who perceived the Jewish students as defending traditional values against immoral academia.

But the “Yale 5” lost their case because it was understood that if their sensibilities were offended by what they imagined might be going on in their classmate’s rooms, then they could get an education elsewhere.

The principle at Harvard is the same. The law can require reasonable accommodations for minorities, but reasonable does not mean that the rest of society need alter its values to satisfy the convenience of the few.

It would be unthinkable that public schools here demand, as they have in France, that Muslim girls take off their headscarves or Jewish boys their kipot in order to sit in class. But the Harvard decision is akin to a decision to mandate those girls their own female-only classrooms.

In those cases where institutions do rightly accommodate minorities, such as the provision of cafeterias where kosher and halal food can be obtained, as is the case at Harvard and many other schools, the accommodation does not exclude people since anyone can elect to eat a kosher sandwich.

Likewise, the passive exhibit of a menorah on Harvard Square or the sound of a bell is very different thing from authorizing a call to prayer, whose translation amounts to a public proclamation that all non-Muslim faiths are false. The public square need not, as rabid separationists demand, be rendered naked of faith. But it is another thing entirely to provide a minority a beachhead from which it may seek to delegitimize everyone else.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Unreasonable Accommodations”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Car - A-Tor
Updated: Three Injured in Jerusalem Terror Attack, Ambulances and Mayor’s Car also Attacked
Latest Indepth Stories
israeli-american flags

All GOP candidates will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money with greater success.

New immigrants from USA and Canada arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.

The one reason to make Aliyah outweighs all the arguments not to move to Israel.

Keeping-Jerusalem

“We returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted!”

Ambassador Danny Ayalon

I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, stated that the Torah community’s turnout in the WZO election is vital.

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

An early Yom Ha’atzmaut gathering for Israel’s 67th birthday with Pres. Rivlin of Israel and guests

Israel’s Memorial Day shouldn’t be a day of mourning, it’s a day to honor, not another Holocaust Day

God’s 3 part promise for Israel: to the Avot; a plentiful land; the eventual return home by all Jews

A committed Religious Zionist, he was a sought-after adviser on Zionist affairs around the world.

More important, Mr. Obama is simply acceding to Iran’s position on the timing of the lifting of sanctions.

“Texans share a lot of the same attitude as Israelis, that we say what we think and we think what we say, and that makes it much easier to communicate,” he says.

The fight against terror is a case in point…. The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region…is long overdue….

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
Tobin-012315

The abuse following publication proved a cautionary tale: no one followed in Peters’s footsteps

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem at the President's Residence, February 2014 (archive)

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow […]

How will all this end? Hamas seems to think it will be Netanyahu who will blink first.

Nothing short of a stroke that will decapitate the leadership of this group will convince the Arabs that Hamas has made a mistake.

Z STREET will have the ability to compel IRS officials to testify as to their practices and produce all records.

“Death of Klinghoffer” opera frames the issue as Israel’s existence being the real crime.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/unreasonable-accommodations/2008/04/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: