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OU Chabad's Rabbi, Levi Raichik (left), stands with students Grace Jarchow (middle) and Hadass Galili (right) outside the Ohio Statehouse where the group testified on Feb. 15. Provided by OU Chabad.

Pending Ohio bill excuses higher education absences due to religious observances

Ohio House Bill 353, which would require institutions of higher education to excuse absences related to religious holidays and observances, received its second hearing in committee 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 referred to the Higher Education and Career Readiness Committee. The committee held its first hearing Sept. 28, 2021, when both representatives testified.

The bill, referred to as “The Testing Your Faith Act,” proposes that state institutions of higher education provide reasonable accommodations to students with sincere religious beliefs and practices who miss examinations or classes. It provides for students to miss up to three days of class each academic year to participate in religious activities without penalty. 

If a student misses an exam or academic requirement under these circumstances, the bill requires instructors to provide reasonable accommodations to make up for the missed work without prejudice or question. However, students must provide a list of dates they will be absent to their instructors within the first two weeks of class. 

The committee held its second hearing with six additional witnesses, including OU students Grace Jarchow and Hadass Galili, the latter of whom is a columnist for The Post, as well as Sarah Livingston, executive director of OU’s Hillel. 

Livingston, a proponent of the bill, shared both her own testimony and the story of Zoe Felber, a former OU student who graduated in 2021. She recounted Felber’s experience of a professor telling her in a lecture that she would receive a zero on the quizzes she missed on Jewish holidays, prompting Felber to communicate further with her professor and university administrators, collaborating with Hillel and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. 

After working to create a policy within OU that excuses absences and provides accommodations for religious holidays to prevent similar situations, Livingston said she supports the state bill and the effort to adopt similar state-wide policies. 

“Fully protecting students from any discrimination based on religion and providing accommodations by law is a fantastic first step in preventing systemic antisemitism and helping our students find success as a very small minority within the Ohio State Public University system,” Livingston said in her testimony. 

Jarchow also testified at the hearing, relating a similar experience with difficulties obtaining permission for an absence to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. She supports House Bill 353 and believes that if a clear policy like it had been in place, confusion in the situation may have been avoided. 

“I believe that the passing of this bill is crucial to my education and religious freedom as well as the generations that follow me,” Jarchow said in her statement. “I also believe I was denied accommodations on a simple line of ignorance.”

Rabbi Levi Raichik of Chabad at OU, cites ignorance as a reason for why students like Jarchow and Felber are unable to receive accommodations for absences related to religious practices. Raichik feels most people do not understand the importance of Jewish holidays. 

The proposed bill, in addition to stipulating the accommodations students would be provided, would require state universities to provide a nonexhaustive list of religious holidays, post the policy in a prominent place on the university website and include a statement about the policy in class syllabi. 

Raichik feels the proposed legislation would allow students to feel more welcome within their university community.

“When you have to fight so hard with your own school administration but you are paying so much money just for the rights to observe your own religion, it makes you feel like an outsider. It makes you feel unwanted and unwelcome,” Raichik said.  

@sophielisey

sy951319@ohio.edu

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