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U.S. sues on behalf of Muslim teacher

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WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) -- Critics of a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim teacher in Illinois say it is politically motivated.

Government lawyers filed the religious discrimination suit in December on behalf of Safoorah Khan, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Khan quit her job in Berkeley, a suburb of Chicago, when she was refused time off to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

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Critics say Khan was requesting a three-week absence, well beyond the usual accommodation to employees' religion, and the Justice Department should not have become involved. They suggest the Obama administration filed the lawsuit in an effort to reach out to U.S. Muslims.

"It sounds like a very dubious judgment and a real legal reach," said Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general in the cabinet of former President George W. Bush. "The upper reaches of the Justice Department should be calling people to account for this."

Thomas Perez, the current assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the department is trying to defend "the religious liberty our forefathers fought for."

Kamram Memon, Khan's lawyer, said she wanted to make the pilgrimage, which all Muslims are supposed to do at least once in their life, and had been unable to afford it. He said she would have had to wait at least nine years for the period of the hajj to fall during a school break.

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