For all religions

Avigayil Halpern, who tells us in “HALPERN: Awe and absences” (Sept. 10, 2018) that she’s an observant Jew, complains that “Yale’s current policies do not make provision for students who must miss class for religious observance. “This is not accidental, but rather is also part of Yale’s Protestant heritage … To be the model of both pluralism and meaning-seeking that it claims to be, the University must establish better policies for accommodating students observing religious holidays.”

While the exact number of religions in the world is not known, experts estimate that there are about 4,300, each with different rules, prohibitions and so forth. There are also an estimated 1.1 billion people who identify as agnostic or atheist. Thus, there is clearly a practical limit as to how far any multiethnic university can be expected to accommodate variable religious practices and/or secular beliefs.

For example, observant Muslims have an entire month each year when work is rendered extremely stressful if not impossible given that from sunrise to sunset no eating or drinking is allowed, along with a prohibition against “bad behavior,” “bad intentions” and “rude language,” coupled with the duty to perform extensive prayer and meditation. At least Ms. Halpern can eat, drink and behave badly in between praying and meditating during her religious holidays.

Muslim scholars have decried the tendency of Muslims to slack off work during Ramadan. They note that such is prohibited by the Koran. They note further that part of the purpose of religious observances of this nature is suffering. That is, pain is part of the religious observance. The Old Testament is also replete with passages that support pain as a privilege of being Jewish. Thus, attempts to reduce the pain may be considered irreligious rather than observant.

Finally, the fact that Yale does not accommodate each individual student’s opinions and beliefs cannot be blamed on Yale’s Protestant heritage but rather on the impracticality of doing so, not to mention the chaos that would ensue if every student could claim exemptions and special treatment because of beliefs they hold voluntarily. Free will does not equate with a free ride.