Rather than add a school holiday for Muslims who were requesting one, a Florida school board has canceled all religious observances – including Yom Kippur, Good Friday and the day after Easter.

The Hillsborough County School Board this week approved its 2006-07 calendar without the religious holidays, on a 6-1 vote, the Tampa Tribune reported.

“A school board cannot recognize a religious holiday for the sole purpose of recognizing a religious holiday,” board attorney Tom Gonzalez is quoted as telling a packed meeting of the panel Tuesday.

The controversy began when Ahmed Bedier, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in December requested a school holiday for Eid Al-Fitr, a holy day marking the end of Ramadan. The board then decided to reconsider the district calendar, voting to delete all religious holidays.

Bedier called the change away from observing religious holidays “just an excuse to hide bias against the Muslims.”

Bishop Chuck Leigh, president of the Florida Council of Churches, backed Bedier, telling the Tampa paper: “I think it’s really petty on the part of the school board. … Instead of giving them one holiday, they decided they’re not going to give anybody anything.”

Bedier told Tampa Bay’s 10 News: “It will stigmatize and cause friction between Christian and Jewish students and Muslim students, because now kids at schools will say, ‘Hey, the Muslim kids were responsible for us losing our holiday.'”

Several individuals connected to the Council on American-Islamic Relations have been indicted on terrorism-related charges. In addition, CAIR’s chairman of the board, Omar Ahmad, was cited by a California newspaper in 1998 declaring the Quran should be America’s highest authority. He also was reported to have said Islam is not in America to be equal to any other religion but to be dominant.

Board member Jennifer Faliero voted against the new calendar, saying she believes Good Friday has become a secular holiday in American culture.

“It is now about the Easter Bunny. … They have taken religion out of it completely,” she said.

The policy of excusing students with no penalty on their religious holidays will continue, board members stressed.

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