SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced late in Utah's legislative session would require universities and colleges to make reasonable accommodations to a student's academic requirements for a sincerely held religious belief.
While it hasn't been a widespread issue in the state and SB244's sponsor Sen. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, suspects most higher education institutions are already doing this, he felt it was necessary to standardize it and give students more protection.
The main goal of the bill is to make sure "all students in the state of Utah have access to the same opportunities," Kennedy explained to KSL.com.
If passed, the bill would allow students to reschedule academic responsibilities — like a test, for example — if it conflicted with a student's religious belief or observance of religious practice. The content of the curriculum would not be impacted and the student would still be required to complete their assignments.
"It doesn't change the curriculum; it does change how the curriculum fits into the student's religious life," Kennedy told the Senate Education Committee this week.
The policies and procedures will be up to the Utah State Board of Regents for the Utah System of Higher Education, Kennedy said.
Creating the policy would help give students negotiating power if a professor was resistant to reasonably accommodate a student's religious needs.
Nicholeen Peck, president of the Worldwide Organization for Women spoke in support of the legislation, saying it goes along with the group's commitment to family, sovereignty and faith.
"We just see this as kind of a no-brainer to be able to help people uphold their religious practices that are so near and dear to them," she said.
It's important to make this type of accommodation widely available to all students, to avoid any situation where a professor might be rigid on rescheduling academic assignments, she added.
"There is bias that happens, so I think it's good to give students this type of conversation that they could have," Peck said.
Another senator commended Kennedy for proposing the bill, pointing out that it would be disproportionately difficult for students to take an exam or complete an assignment if it falls in the middle of a religious fast, like Ramadan.
"Imagine trying to take a six-hour test in the middle of a religious fast; that might be a really difficult challenge," Kennedy said in agreement.
The bill recently passed the Senate and is currently in the House.