Testing your faith

Treasurer Dean Esmail and Yara Habo at the Muslim Student Association’s Fast-a-thon Iftar dinner. Photo by Hannah Werle / Jambar Contributor

By Hannah Werle

Youngstown State University’s board of trustees approved a new policy March 2 allowing students three class absences a semester for religious holidays. 

The policy was written in response to a change in the Ohio Revised Code via Ohio House Bill Number 353, called “The Testing Your Faith Act.” 

The act, which outlines the same rules as YSU’s policy, went into effect April 3 and applies to all state institutions of higher education. Its purpose is to establish procedures to accommodate the beliefs and practices of students in regard to academic requirements and religious absences.

As per the bill, the policy requires students to provide a list of dates that will be missed throughout the semester within 14 days of the course’s start. Faculty will be required to arrange accommodations for any missed materials or assignments. 

Instructors will then provide a summary of the policy, the procedure to report a violation and a contact for more information in their course syllabi.

The board of trustees will uphold the state law.                   Photo by Elizabeth Coss / The Jambar

Dr. John R. Jakubek, chair of the board, said that while the policy’s frequency of use is to be determined, it’s meant to ensure students can freely practice their faiths. 

“[The policy] gives [students] the opportunity to take those important days with respect to their religion when they feel that there’s a time of worship or time of gathering with people of their denomination,” Jakubek said. 

Under the new policy, students will be under no obligation to provide proof of their religion. 

Mark Vopat, professor of philosophy and president of YSU’s chapter of the Ohio Educational Association, said he doesn’t believe there’s a problem for which a policy is necessary.

“This is a solution seeking a problem. We’ve already had the means to give religious accommodation for pretty much everything,” Vopat said. “[Regarding] the number of religious holidays that people will observe, we’ve never had a problem.”

According to YSU’s previous attendance policy, instructors were already required to provide students with academic accommodations for absences caused by faith-based events. 

The policy will be available on YSU’s website, along with a non-exhaustive list of major religious holidays occurring within the next two academic years.