Ohio bill would protect students’ faith

(The Center Square) – Professors at Ohio colleges and universities could be required to accommodate students’ religious beliefs and practices if a bill recently passed by the House becomes law.

The “Testing Your Faith Act,” according to co-sponsor Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, would eliminate the potential of having to choose between academic standing and religion for students at colleges and universities.

The bill passed unanimously in the House and now heads to the Senate.

“Individuals pursuing higher education face many necessary challenges and stressors that build their character and confidence,” Click said. “However, one conflict that they should not have to face is the decision between academic excellence and religious fidelity.”

The bill would require each college or university to adopt a policy that “reasonably” accommodates sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of a student regarding exams or other academic requirements.

The policy would have to allow a student to be absent for up to three days each semester to take holidays for faith, religious or spiritual beliefs.

Class instructors would also be required to accept, without question, the sincerity of a student’s religious or spiritual beliefs.

“HB353 ensures all our higher education students are able to prioritize both their studies and their faith by guaranteeing them the religious freedoms our country was founded on,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park.

The bill received no opposition in the House Higher Education and Career Readiness committee. It received support from the Ohio Jewish Communities and the Ohio Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“When we first began to advocate on this issue, we believed it to be a proactive attempt to protect religious observances. However, in our outreach with our campus communities, we have learned two disturbing pieces of information. First, there are numerous students across Ohio each year who face hardship and difficulty in receiving accommodation for religious observances,” testified Howie Beigelman, executive director of the Ohio Jewish Communities. “As well, we have found that each campus, and potentially, each student, has their own experience. It’s time to remedy that. We believe a uniform law across Ohio would serve as a baseline foundation of accommodation.”