Thanks to a proposed bill initiated by Agudath Israel of America in response to an incident at a local college last Yom Kippur, New Jersey students may no longer be forced to choose between observing their religion and facing academic penalties.
Under current New Jersey law, college students who miss an exam due to a religious holiday are guaranteed an alternate exam date. However, the law is limited to exams and does not prevent a student from being penalized for missing classes due to a religious holiday. This glaring omission from the law was highlighted by a situation that arose last Yom Kippur. After a student missed two days of classes on Rosh Hashana, her professor notified her that she would fail the semester if she missed any more classes. Caught in a no-win situation, the student had to decide whether to observe Yom Kippur or pass the semester.
When Rabbi Avi Schnall, New Jersey Director of Agudath Israel, learned of the incident, he approached Assembly Deputy Speaker Gary Schaer (D) to request his assistance. In response, Assemblyman Schaer introduced Assembly Bill A3440, which states that an “institution [of higher education] is not permitted to impose any type of penalty on a student who is unable to attend class for reason of a religious observance.” Concurrently, Senator Vin Gopal (D) introduced an identical bill in the State Senate where it passed unanimously, 38 – 0.
The bill was heard in the Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing on September 13, where it also passed unanimously. Committee Vice Chairman Robert Karabinchak (D) joined Assemblyman Schaer as a primary sponsor of the bill and expressed his strong support for the bill during the hearing. “This bill is simple, it’s fair, and I’m 100% behind it.”
“We’re grateful to Assemblyman Schaer for his leadership and initiative on this important matter, as well as to Assemblyman Karabinchak and Senator Gopal”, says Rabbi Schnall, “and we look forward to having the bill passed by the full Assembly and moving on to the governor’s desk. New Jersey students should never be penalized for their religious beliefs.”