A Broward School District Diversity Committee meeting got ugly Thursday night -- at one point, requiring police intervention -- when advocates presented a request for schools to close on two Islamic high holidays.
"The group promoting and asking for this is associated with terrorism," charged Joe Kaufman, chairman of Coral Springs-based Americans Against Hate. Another opponent accused the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations of "cultural jihad."
CAIR is asking for school holidays on Eid-ul-Adha, which falls on October 15 in 2013, and Eid-ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, which falls in early August next year.
“We’re not asking them to close the whole district down, but at least give the kids off,” CAIR Executive Director Nezar Hamze told The Huffington Post, noting he has received hundreds of complaints from Muslim parents whose children miss a day of school to observe the holidays. (Hamze is also a HuffPost blogger.)
CAIR’s community relations director, Ghazala Salam, prepared a study that found there are 17,721 Muslims living in Broward who are 18 years old or younger. In an Emerge USA poll of 15,000 Broward Muslims, South Asian and Arab-Americans, 89 percent said they keep their children home from school during the holidays.
The school district cites high absenteeism, not religious observances, as the reason it closes on Christian and Jewish holidays, according to the Sun Sentinel. Salam says the same holds true for the two Muslim holidays.
“The reasoning has been there isn’t enough Muslim students for them to have a day off. From the data that we’ve collected now, there is a significant amount of students,” Salam told HuffPost.
She also noted that from 2007 to 2013, Broward schools were closed every Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and 80 percent of the time for Hanukkah and 50 percent of the time for Passover, even though they are not federal holidays.
"It seems like they're giving special rights to Islam," Tea Party protestor Scott McNeeds told WPEC outside the meeting. "That's how politics works, things happen gradually."
For Eid-ul-Adha, Salam proposes moving a teacher work day to the holiday rather than adding more school days. Since Islamic holidays are determined by the lunar calendar, Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr will fall on different days every year and Eid-ul-Fitr will occur during summer break until 2017.
“There are so many days that they assign as days off throughout the year," she said. "It’s just a matter of them to review the calendar."
Opponents of the plan ranged from those advocating for separation of church and state to those wary of Islam in particular.
"Muslim people are beautiful people, but their religion, which is Islam, is not good. It's very violent and evil," argued the Rev. O'Neal Dozier of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach.
Outside the meeting, protestors carried signs reading "Protect Our Children No Holiday For Perverted Cult" and "Teach Math Not Sharia."
Tea Party Fort Lauderdale founder Danita Kilcullen told the Sun-Sentinel she was opposed because school recognition of Muslim holidays would be "another step toward the Islamization of our children. This is a Judeo-Christian nation."
"This is not about gaining a religious holiday in any means whatsoever," Salam said at the podium. "It is about inclusively, equality and diversity."
According to the Sun-Sentinel, a police officer was forced to step in and threaten to shut the meeting down after Diversity Board member Barbara Williamson noted CAIR and other advocates were "not asking to support their religion. They're asking for equity, and that's what we're supposed to be about."
The comment drew a standing ovation from Muslims and protests from the proposal's opponents.
Ultimately, the Diversity Board did not reach a conclusion, but said it would meet with the District's calendar committee to discuss.