Public employees and students in public schools will be allowed to take up to two days off each year for reasons of faith or conscience under legislation that passed the House recently on a 64-32 vote.
Senate Bill 5173, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, would grant public employees the option of taking a new unpaid holiday along with a paid floating day they are entitled to on days that suit their religious beliefs. Similarly, public school students could be excused from school for up to two days for similar reasons, provided they have their parents’ approval. The school absences would not affect school district compliance with educational requirements or enrollment calculations.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously last month but was amended in the House prior to its passage in that chamber, so now it must come back to the Senate for concurrence with the amended version. Hasegawa said concurrence is expected and all that will remain will be for the bill to be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Hasegawa’s legislation is designed to provide flexibility to peoples and faiths that don’t fit conveniently into the standard calendar. For instance, the two most important Muslim and Jewish holidays fall not on a consistent day each year but on a different day due to the shorter lunar calendar year and the method for determining the date.
“This bill is a step forward toward the American ideal of religious freedom and will have significant impact on the lives of many Washingtonians,” Hasegawa said. “Religious minorities will finally be able to celebrate and observe their most meaningful holidays without fear of retaliation or losing their jobs.”