Friday, August 12, 2005

An Atheist's Absence

I was looking ahead on my calendar recently, seeing how the next few months will fall out. And I was sad to see that due to Succos I will have to be absent from four days of school in the middle of October. How's that for a pain?

And a couple of those days aren't just regular classes, but are days when my biochemistry labs are scheduled. I'm missing a four hour lab period, which is only given once a week, two weeks in a row. How I'm supposed to make that up, I have no idea. I'm sure I'll work out something, but really it's a big annoyance.

Fortunately however, Title I, Article 5, Section 224-a of the New York State Education Law provides that:

2. Any student in an institution of higher education who is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to attend classes on a particular day or days shall, because of such absence on the particular day or days, be excused from any examination or any study or work requirements.

3. It shall be the responsibility of the faculty and the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to make available to each student who is absent from school, because of his or her religious beliefs, an equivalent opportunity to make up any examinations, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. No fees of any kind shall be charged by the institution for making available to the said student such equivalent opportunity.

So my professors are legally bound not to hold my absenteeism against me. Doesn't mean they won't, but I've had a good track record so far in past times that I'd have to miss class. But what sticks in my craw and makes me uncomfortable about the whole thing is that the law clearly indicates that it applies only when the student is absent "because of his or her religious beliefs."

I'm not going to be absent because of my beliefs per se, but because of reasons dealing with my family, my local society and the life I choose to live. So technically am I protected under this law? And suppose if on the unlikely situation that my professor does not honor it, can I honestly appeal? Imagine if it would go to court and I'm sitting on the stand being grilled about my religious beliefs.

I'm not really worried on a practical level, but I wonder about what I am agreeing to through implicitly invoking this law.


mushroomjew said...

I've thought about the same things.
The funny thing was that when I applied for my LSAT's, I originally signed up for Saturday since Columbia is closer to my home (the Sunday exam is given in lower manhattan). I did not have any problems with taking the test on Shabbos. But when actually registering I saw that the only available seats left were at a school in far rockway.
So I put on my "frum hat" and registered as a Sabbath observer. This allowes me to take the test at a convenient location. All I needed was my Rabbi to write letter that I am a Sabbath Observer. I guess I felt kind of guilty since I'm not stricly a Sabbath observer- I just am because of my family. Other people would not be able to do what I did and would have to shlep all the way to far rockaway.
The truth is that in my highschool, where most of the students were not religous, the administration encouraged everyone to opt for the Sunday SAT's so as to preserve that option in the future for students who really need it.
So, yes, I guess we are somewhat taking advantage of the system, but I wouldn't rank it as a very blatant moral lapse.

Orthoprax said...


Most of the time these kinds of things don't bother me because I really am observant. So, now that you're mentioning standardized tests, I had the option of taking my MCAT on Saturday or Sunday. They don't care which you choose, but you do have to explain why. So I just said that I was an observant Jew, which was true and my conscience was clear.

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