Sutherland Institute supports SB 244 – Student Religious Accommodations Amendments

March 2, 2021

The following statement was delivered by email on Monday, March 1, 2021, to members of the Utah Senate Education Committee during Utah’s 2021 general legislative session. Later that day, the committee unanimously passed out SB 244 with a favorable recommendation.

If the last several years in American politics have revealed anything, it is that we need more respect for the beliefs and experiences of others in our society. This is especially true for college and university students, most of whom are in the formative stages of their political engagement. This is most likely to occur when students are learning in an atmosphere where differences can be constructively accommodated.

SB 244 – Student Religious Accommodations Amendments promotes this type of environment. The idea of the bill is simple and, we believe, noncontroversial.

Its intent is to provide assistance to students, particularly those who are members of minority religious groups, who may have religious obligations or who may observe holy days that are not familiar to professors and administrators. This can create a challenge for such students, who may need accommodations for these observations so they do not get behind in classwork or miss exams but can still practice their faith. For instance, Muslim students who need to take exams in the evening during Ramadan when they are fasting during the day.

SB 244 directs the State Board of Higher Education to develop policies to ensure this type of accommodation is made available and, as important, is clearly communicated to students. Washington and Illinois have both implemented procedures that are similar to this approach although those policies were established directly by the respective legislatures rather than by the institutions affected, as would be done in Utah.

We recognize that the Board is well-qualified to formulate a policy that ensures accommodations are effective and well understood. We believe this is an ideal approach to implementing these important measures as it would do so without unnecessarily dictating specifics to the Board of Higher Education or the state’s institutions of higher education.

For the above reasons, we support and encourage passage of this bill.

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