Sunday, March 24, 2013
Teachers May Proceed With Free Exercise Challenge To Board's Ending of Sick Leave Use For Religious Holidays
In Berkowitz v. East Ramapo Central School District, (SD NY, March 21, 2013), Jewish teachers and nurses sued after school officials refused to abide by provisions in collective bargaining agreements allowing teachers and school nurses to use paid sick leave days for observance of religious holidays. The school board's change in policy was taken in response to New York state appeals court case holding that compliance with a somewhat different religious observance policy was a violation of the Establishment Clause. In the suit challenging the East Ramapo policy change, a New York federal district court found that the school board's actions did not violate the Establishment Clause or the equal protection clause. However the court held that plaintiffs may proceed with their 1st Amendment and New York state Constitution free exercise challenges. The court concluded that the collective bargaining agreement provisions here are an appropriate accommodation of religious exercise and do not violate the Establishment Clause.