N.J. adopts 4 religious-freedom measures

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed several bills into law this week that aim to promote religious freedoms. The four new laws each address accommodations for the observance of religious holidays or events.

One measure, S.1023, requires institutions of higher education to offer alternative testing arrangements for students unable to take Saturday exams because of religious observances. The bill also requires private institutions offering standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, to offer alternative testing arrangements for religious observances that conflict with the scheduled testing date.

A similar law requires the state to provide alternative testing arrangements for applicants taking occupational and professional licensing exams scheduled on religious holidays.

A third measure expands religious civil rights protections for employees. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that this law requires employers to offer accommodations for the observance of religious holidays. Although the measure does not guarantee employees time off to celebrate, it does require a good-faith effort on the part of the employer to accommodate religiously observant employees.

Another new law bars health facilities from requiring patients or family members to sign admission papers when doing so would violate religious beliefs.

Religious-liberty expert Charles Haynes praised the measures, which were signed into law on April 9.

“New Jersey should be commended for providing reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices in schools and in the workplace,” said Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. “Such legislation on the state level has become more necessary in the wake of Supreme Court decisions weakening protection under the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment.”

Intern Melanie Bengtson contributed to this report.

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