Olympia, WA—American Atheists, on behalf of its nearly 1,500 constituents in Washington, wrote in opposition to SB 5166. This bill would require college and university instructors to accommodate students’ requests for special treatment concerning exams or course requirements, so long as they are framed in terms of religion.
Although we believe this legislation to be well-intentioned, SB 5166 would create religious exemptions that enable discrimination and unfair treatment. If SB 5166 passes, it could allow any number of extreme and absurd “accommodations” at public universities and colleges, including:
- A Christian social work student receives an “accommodation” so that she does not have to work with, counsel, or learn about LGBTQ people, as normally required by the program.
- A Catholic medical student receives an “accommodation” so that she does not need to learn about or work with contraception or other reproductive health requirements of the curriculum.
SB 5166 is especially dangerous because it:
- Sets virtually no limits on the types of accommodations in the name of religion that educational institutions must unquestionably provide to students who so request.
- Provides no explicit protections that would prevent religion-based accommodations from burdening third parties, such as educators and other students.
- Prevents oversight since the requests and accommodations must be kept confidential.
“The religious exemptions created by this bill will have severe and unpredictable effects on Washington’s higher education system,” warned Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy. “SB 5166 is vague, overly broad, and ripe for abuse. Washington lawmakers should consider less sweeping methods to protect religious minority students.”