WASHINGTON — President Obama supports the right of Muslim Americans to celebrate religious holidays, the White House said Friday. He just can’t give them the day off.
Responding to a petition on the White House’s “We the People” site, the White House declined to declare federal holidays for the Muslim holy days of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.
That’s because Congress has only designated 10 federal holidays each year: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Proposals for new permanent federal holidays are typically the province of Congress,” the White House said.
The White House was prompted to respond to the petition after it received more than 100,000 signatures over 30 days.
“There is a large population of Muslim people in the U.S and the two holidays that are celebrated are not recognized in calendars to mark these special days,” the petitioners wrote. “Students are missing out on school, people taking time off from work, this is all because these holidays are unknown.”
The response to the petition came the same day as Obama signed an executive order giving federal employees a half day off on Dec. 24 — Christmas Eve. It also comes as Obama has denounced intolerance toward Muslim Americans following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
The White House noted that states, cities and school districts can set their own holidays, and that New York City schools recognized Eid as a holiday for the first time this year. And it said that federal law requires most employers to make religious accommodations to employees to allow them to celebrate religious observances.
Eid al-Adha celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God; Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
(Gregory Korte is a reporter for USA Today)