One down, one to go

One down, one to go

Religious bills pass Assembly

A religious accommodation package that guarantees the religious rights of students, employees, hospital patients, and nursing home residents passed in the Assembly on Monday. It was first introduced in the Assembly by Passaic Assemblyman Gary Schaer (Dist. 36) almost a year ago. An identical package, introduced in the state Senate by state Sens. Loretta Weinberg (Dist. 37) and Paul Sarlo (Dist. 36), is still in committee.

"The package has considerable positive ramifications for the religious community of New Jersey," Schaer told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday. "All communities will benefit and we’re thankful for that."

Four of the bills passed unanimously, while the bill regarding employment procedures had two opposing votes and nine abstentions. According to that bill, employers who require their employees to work a certain number of days per week must provide alternatives if the employee is scheduled to work on his or her Sabbath or another religious holiday.

"If you are observant and you can’t work on a Saturday or a Sunday, you have the right to go to your employer and he or she has the obligation to give you an alternate date of work that’s not in conflict with your beliefs," said Schaer, the only Orthodox member of the Assembly.

Other measures in the package would require New Jersey colleges and universities to accommodate students whose religious obligations prevent participation in testing that falls out on holidays, such as Rosh HaShanah, the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr, or the Christian Good Friday.

Another bill would mandate alternate test dates for when government-licensing tests conflict with religious holidays.

The package includes three 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 meat that is kosher or halal. The bill was amended in committee to require patients to inform the nursing homes of any requirements at the time of admission and that the patients would bear any additional expense in purchasing the food. The second bill ensures that doctors make their medical decisions in accordance with the patient’s religious beliefs, while the third ensures admission practices in line with the patient’s beliefs.

In addition to guaranteeing alternate workdays, the final bill, which protects employees from religious discrimination, with regard to losing promotions, retaining employment, or being transferred because of religious obligations.

"It’s a good day for New Jersey," Schaer said. "It’s a good day when we recognize we’re a diverse state. As Jews we’re part of that diversity, but that should in no way inhibit anybody’s right to full opportunity in this state."

The bill regarding alternate state testing dates is already under review in the Senate commerce committee and was scheduled to come up for a vote on Thursday, while the bills regarding hospital and nursing home care are under review in the health committee.

"I’m very glad to see these bills moving," Weinberg said Tuesday. "These bills are very important to help recognize the diversity of our state."

Weinberg is hopeful that the bills in committee will be posted before the June 30 legislative break. Schaer would like to see the package passed into law by the end of the year.

New Jersey needs the religious protections guaranteed under these laws, Weinberg said. She cited the mock trial team from Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County, which was unable to compete in a national competition in ‘005 because it fell on a Saturday. Said Weinberg, "With the passage of these bills the people of New Jersey will be aware that not only should they be sensitive to religious observances but by law they will have to be."

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