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Law Gives Religious Students Test Option

Times Staff Writer

Legislation requiring universities and colleges to make other arrangements for religious students when holy days and sabbath observances conflict with test dates has been signed by Gov. George Deukmejian.

“This legislation will help end the conflicts of conscience faced by many students who have test dates on their holy days,” said Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who sponsored the measure.

Agudath Israel of California, an Orthodox Jewish group, requested the legislation after receiving numerous complaints, according to its director, Rabbi Chaim Schnurr.

The measure, which the governor signed on Tuesday, was also supported by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith, a Jewish fraternal organization, and by the Church-State Council, a Seventh-day Adventist group.

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Accommodate Beliefs

It says universities, colleges, and testing organizations should accommodate a student’s religious beliefs in scheduling examinations, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” that could have been avoided. The “undue hardship” provision was intended to release the schools of their obligations if students give notice too late that a religious conflict exists.

“The bill respects the schools’ need for test security and advance planning, and will not allow students to discover religion the night before an examination,” Hayden said.

According to Schnurr, the schools could accommodate a conflict either by rescheduling a test for an entire class, or by allowing religious students to take another version of the test on a different date.

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“After all, usually there are students who are absent because of illness who have to make up a test,” he said. “If you trust students who are sick, then you can certainly trust the two or three students who are known to be religious.”

Among Several Introduced

The bill was one of several introduced in the last two years by Agudath Israel, which acts as a lobbying group for Southern California’s growing community of strictly observant Jews, most of whom live on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.

The other successful measures include a bill making it easier to block county coroners from performing autopsies, and legislation designed to stop fraudulent sales of non-kosher meat.

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Another bill dealing with discrimination against employees who are forced to work on the sabbath is on the governor’s desk.

“A lot of what we hope to accomplish is not only in terms of the letter of the law but also in terms of educating the public that there is a community of observant Jews that is growing, and that has specific and unique requirements to live their religious life, and are protected by the Constitution to observe their religion,” Schnurr said.


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