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New state law allows religious accommodations for university students

uw_campus.jpg
Ted S. Warren
/
AP Photo

 

Students of faith at colleges and universities sometimes find their school work and religious practices conflicting. But a new law will require schools to come up with with policies to accommodate them.

As an example, a Muslim student who is fasting during Ramadan breaks fast late at night and has prayers that go well into the early morning hours. But this can become a problem if the student has an exam at 8 a.m.

 

Some students feel may feel uneasy about asking to reschedule the test; they may skip it. Mennah El-Gammal says this law is meant to empower students to ask for that exception. She's a University of Washington student who has been pushing for the policy the past two years.

“It might seem small, but what may seem small to you is actually life changing to another person. And that’s why advocacy matters so much," she said. "So if the bill makes it a little easier for a student to not have to pick between being a good practitioner of their faith and being a good student, then that’s all that matters to me.”

 

And El-Gammal says one of the arguments she’s heard against the law was that accommodating students in this way doesn’t adhere to the "secular society" that we live in. But she doesn’t agree.

“Christmas is built into our system and so people take Christmas off. And they can do that. But, for example, Orthodox Christians who celebrate Christmas on January 7 don’t get to do that,” El-Gammal said.

Now that the bill has become law, El-Gammal says she will help with the education effort to inform students about their new rights. Students will be able to receive an accommodation due to their faith if they notify their professors within the first two weeks of class.

 

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.