Corzine to sign religious protection bills next month
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Corzine to sign religious protection bills next month

Gov. Jon Corzine will sign two religious protection bills into law at a Passaic synagogue early next month, bringing the seven-bill package sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer and Sen. Loretta Weinberg a step closer to completion.

The first bill mandates that state universities and colleges provide alternate test dates for students with religious conflicts. The second bill, which Corzine had previously signed during the legislative break in January, mandates that employers provide alternatives to employees who have religious obligations on scheduled workdays. Because the legislature was on break, Corzine did not hold a public signing of the bill, and so he will ceremonially sign both bills on Wednesday, April 9, at Ahavas Israel in Passaic.

While many universities already have policies in place for religious conflicts, Schaer (D-36) emphasized that not all do, and those policies are not always enforced.

"The difference is also between a policy — which a university may have or may not have or police or not police — versus something coming from the state," he said. "It’s a wonderful thing for a university or college to recognize the diversity of its students. It puts it on another level when the state recognizes the diversity of its residents."

Weinberg (D-37) added that relying on a university’s policy means that students have to depend on the university to respect the diversity of its students.

"This makes it the law so we don’t have to depend upon anybody’s good nature," she said. "It is a comment on a multicultural, multireligious, multiracial state that we make all our institutions sensitive to the needs of any group, most particular the religious needs."

It is especially appropriate, Weinberg added, that the signing is taking place in April, which the U.S. government has designated Jewish Heritage Month.

The religious protections package is meant to provide accommodations for religious observance across the private and public sectors, according to the package’s sponsors.

Schaer authored the bills in the Assembly in the spring, while Weinberg introduced them in the Senate soon after. The bill package is an important step forward for New Jersey, Schaer said.

"The bills are extremely exciting," Schaer said. "They represent an absolute change in the way that New Jersey regards members of the society who are observant, whatever their religious faith or credo."

Corzine signed the first two bills of the package into law last year. The first mandated alternate testing dates for applicants seeking a state-issued license when the test date conflicts with a religious observance. The second allows patients admitted to hospitals on religious holidays to bypass paperwork until the end of the holiday.

The package includes two other bills that would affect the state’s health-care governance. One ensures nursing home residents the right to receive food in line with their religious dietary laws, such as food that is kosher or halal. The second bill mandates that doctors make their medical decisions — end of life issues, for example — in accordance with the patient’s religious beliefs. Schaer is hopeful that these two will pass out of the legislature this year.

The assemblyman is preparing a new package of religious accommodation bills for the Assembly but was not yet ready to disclose their contents.

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