Pending Ohio bill excuses higher education absences due to religious observances

Bill 353 of the Ohio House of Representatives, which requires higher education institutions to justify absences related to religious holidays and ceremonies, held a second hearing in committee on Feb. 15, and Ohio University students testified.

The bill was first introduced in June 2021 by sponsors Gary Click, R-District 38, and Jessica Miranda, D-District 28, and was submitted to the Committee on Higher Education and Career Readiness. The committee held its first hearing on September 28, 2021, when both representatives testified.

The bill, called the “Test Your Faith,” proposes that public higher education institutions provide reasonable conditions for students with sincere religious beliefs and practices who miss exams or classes. It stipulates that students may miss up to three days of classes each academic year to participate in religious activities without penalty.

If a student misses an exam or study requirements in these circumstances, the bill requires faculty to provide reasonable accommodations to compensate for missed work without prejudice and questions. However, students must provide a list of dates when they will be absent to their faculty during the first two weeks of classes.

The committee held its second hearing with six additional witnesses, including OU students Grace Yarhov and Hadas Galili, the latter of whom is a columnist The Postand Sarah Livingston, CEO of OU’s Hillel.

Livingston, a supporter of the bill, shared both her testimony and the story of Zoe Felber, a former OU student who graduated in 2021. she missed the Jewish holidays, which prompted Felber to further communicate with his professors and university administrators, collaborating with Hillel and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion.

After working on a policy within the OU that justifies excuses and provides adaptation for religious holidays to prevent similar situations, Livingston said she supports the state bill and efforts to pass such a nationwide policy.

“Complete protection of students from any religion discrimination and the provision of legal facilities is a fantastic first step in preventing systemic anti-Semitism and helping our students succeed as a very small minority in Ohio State University,” Livingston said in a statement.

Yarchev also testified at the hearing, mentioning a similar experience with difficulties in obtaining permission to be absent from Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. She supports Bill 353 and believes that if such a clear policy were in place, confusion in the situation could have been avoided.

“I believe that the adoption of this bill is crucial for my education and religious freedom, as well as for the generations that follow me,” Yarcheva said in a statement. “I also believe that I was denied placement on a simple line of ignorance.”

Rabbi Levi Raichik of Chabad at OU cites ignorance as the reason why students like Yarhov and Felber cannot get housing for absences related to religious practices. Raichik believes that most people do not understand the importance of Jewish holidays.

The proposed bill, in addition to registration of housing for students, will require public universities to provide a non-exhaustive list of religious holidays, post policies in a prominent place on the university website and include a policy statement in the curriculum.

Raichik believes the proposed law will allow students to feel more wanted in their university community.

“If you have to fight so hard with your own school administration, but you pay so much money just for the right to practice your religion, you feel outsider. This makes you feel undesirable and undesirable, ”Raichyk said.


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