OU Scolds New York Appellate Court for Ruling against Religious Accommodation

Posted on February 4, 2000 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – through its Institute for Public Affairs – criticized a New York State appellate panel for a decision issued last week against workplace religious accommodation policy.

The ruling (issued by four judges of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Brooklyn-based 2nd Department) held that a policy of the Port Washington School District which allowed teachers, upon written request, to receive any of the religious holidays officially recognized by the N.Y. Commissioner of Education as a paid day off, rather than an unpaid day of leave, as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. The court’s stated rationale for this holding was that the policy was benefiting religiously observant teachers at the expense of those less observant or atheists. The ruling was issued in the case of Port Washington Union Free School Dist. v. Port Washington Teachers Association.

Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute, issued the following statement in connection with this ruling:

The New York Appellate Division has struck yet another blow against the religious needs of workers being accommodated in the workplace. The
court has turned the meaning of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause on its head – a provision that was written by our framers to ensure that
America would be a place where religious pluralism would flourish is now deployed to say that a local school district may not act to ensure that its teachers are not penalized for their religious observance.

Sadly, this ruling is only the latest of many that have paid little heed to the principle and value of religious accommodation. The Orthodox Union is thus working with a broad coalition of groups to secure Congress’ passage of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act – a measure that will restore to our law the notion that religious accommodation is a valued principle. We hope that New York’s Court of Appeals will reverse last week’s ruling; we hope to work with all who support religious liberty for that result.”