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R.I. Teachers Peeved Over Good Friday Slight

(CN) - Public school officials in Cranston, R.I., won't let some teachers take Good Friday off - despite a provision in their union agreement giving them two days a year for "religious obligations," the teachers claim in a lawsuit filed in state court on Monday.

The Cranston Teachers' Alliance, Local Union 1704, AFT and 46 individual Christian and Catholic teachers sued Cranston Public Schools and its board for breach of contract and civil rights violations in Providence Superior Court.

According to the teachers, collective bargaining agreements between the union and the school district contain a provision allowing school employees to take no more than two days per year off to attend religious services held during the school day.

School employees are required to give the district at least one-day notice before taking the leave or their pay will be docked, the complaint states.

Traditionally, Cranston schools have been closed on Good Friday. But this past summer, the school board revised the calendar to keep schools open during most religious holidays.

The teachers claim that their Jewish colleagues were allowed to use their leave days to observe Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah last fall - and those requests were granted "without question, further inquiry or scrutiny," the complaint states.

But beginning last month, the plaintiffs say they made their requests to take Good Friday off well in advance of the one-day notice requirement under the collective bargaining agreement. Administrators denied their requests, the teachers say.

"Some or all of the requesting plaintiffs were told by administration officials that the 'religious observance' provision did not apply to Good Friday because no specific attendance at a religious mass is required by any Christian religion during the school day," the complaint states.

"Good Friday is considered to be among the holiest and most important days in the Christian faith, second perhaps only to Easter," the teachers continue.

"Contrary to the offensive assertions made by the defendants, there are strict requirements that faithful Christians believe they must attend to on Good Friday.

"For example, Christians are required to observe Good Friday in deep prayer, which many practitioners traditionally feel compelled to observe together in church.

"In addition, from 12:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m., and in addition to remaining in deep prayer and reflection, religious obligations on Good Friday also require adherents to remain silent in recognition that according to their faith Christ was put to death during that time."

According to the Bible, Jesus spent six hours hanging from the cross. During the last three, from noon until 3, night fell and Jesus said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" before he died.

The teachers point out that most churches do offer Good Friday services and other religious observances - which they believe their faith compels them to attend during the school day, whether the church specifically requires it or not.

"Upon information and belief, no such scrutiny was applied to members of other faiths who requested - and were granted - absences for other religious holidays, which may also not specifically require attendance at whatever the Cranston Public Schools purports to classify as services or required services," the complaint states.

The district even went so far as to demand proof that services were scheduled - and denied the leave requests when the teachers showed their churches' calendars, the educators claim.

In addition to a declaration of their right to religious leave under the CBA, the school employees want the court to make sure they are not retaliated against for having asserted their rights.

They also seek unspecified damages for breach of contract, violation of Rhode Island's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Civil Rights Act and fair-labor laws.

The educators are represented by Kevin Daley of the firm Daley Orton in Warwick, R.I.

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