Opinion: Address religious exemptions for class

Illustration by Alex Finger

Imagine having to go to class on Christmas instead of spending time at church or at home with your family. Maybe on Easter, one of the holiest days of the Christian faith, your professor declines your request to be excused from class and your final grade is decreased because you end up over your absence limit.

This hasn’t happened because USC is closed for all major Christian holidays.

But for Jewish, Muslim or other religious holidays, USC is open. USC should change its policies regarding absences for religious holidays because professors are not currently required to accept religious celebrations as an excused absence. 

South Carolina does have a set of truancy laws which state that lawful absences include: “seriously ill students whose attendance would be bad for their health or the health of other students; when there is a death or serious illness of a student’s immediate family member; missing school because of a religious holiday; going to necessary doctor’s appointments; and absences approved by the principal in advance for sports or band trips the student participates in.” 

The problem is technically, the university does not have to follow this law. This law seems to only apply to students attending public elementary, middle or high schools — not public universities. USC’s absentee policy suggests faculty consider religious holy days a “potentially excusable absence.” 

USC provides faculty members a calendar link displaying the most important holidays to ensure students are not abusing this exemption. However, a faculty member is not currently required to accept these exemptions and can even dock points off a student’s final grade for missing class due to a holiday.

In the past two months alone, Jewish students have celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are both significant to Judaism, and Jain students have celebrated Paryushana Parva, one of the most holy days in the faith. Hindu students celebrated Dasara this month as well. Each of these holy days in their respective religions has fallen on a school day, and students have had to choose between their faith and going to class if their teacher doesn’t accept their excuse. 

These policies are backwards and do nothing to promote religious diversity on campus. If we are to boast inclusion and diversity as a reason for USC greatness, then we should address the religious discrimination happening before our very eyes.

South Carolina truancy laws do support a change to USC’s policies, whether done within the university or in a court of law. The current policy as it stands would most likely not stand as the statute regarding truancy law would outweigh university policy. USC should make this change before they are forced to by the judiciary because it is the equitable and fair thing to do for religious students.


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