Marlborough, MA Debates Closing Public Schools on Religious Holidays

February 7, 2002

Source: The Boston Globe

On February 7, 2002, The Boston Globe reported that "Michelle Cohen doesn't hesitate to take her daughter out of school to observe the Jewish high holidays. The choice between practicing her faith and attending classes, she said, is clear-cut. But religious services, Cohen and other Marlborough [MA] parents say, shouldn't have to compete with assignments and tests... In response, the School Committee is considering closing school on three religious holidays: Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), and Good Friday (when Christians mark the Crucifixion). The issue has sparked heated debate in the community over logistical impact, sensitivity to religious diversity, and separation of church and state. An unofficial town Web page,, has been inundated with postings on the matter... But, by designating religious holidays, First Amendment advocates say, schools risk threatening church-state separation by appearing to promote certain religions at the expense of other faiths. Unless certain holidays produce large numbers of absences, canceling classes, however well-intentioned, can be tantamount to religious endorsement... 'If there is a good civic argument for doing it, they are probably on firm legal ground,' said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, which tracks the issue. 'But, if it seems to be an accommodation for a particular religious group, that doesn't pass constitutional muster.'"