Response to Denial of Religious Accommodation Statement
Communication with Peralta Community College District
I was invited to a meeting with HR staff after submitting the response below. The meeting will take place the first week of January.
I am sharing my letter here in case any of my thoughts or resources here are of use to any of you:
Dear HR team,
I hope you and your loved ones are well. I would like to follow up on your message informing me about the status of my religious exemption accommodation statement. To be honest, I was quite surprised at first to receive this notification questioning my sincerely held religious beliefs. As a professor of philosophy and humanities with over 20 years of experience in academia teaching courses from the community college to the doctoral level, it is my utmost priority that I honor my students’ sincerely held religious beliefs and that I nurture an environment where students honor and value each other’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Then, it occurred to me that perhaps there was misunderstanding in how my statement was processed. I am in contact with community colleges across the country, and I learned that in one community college district in Southern California, a number of requests were denied until the district received training in how to process religious exemption forms in accordance with the Civil Rights Act, Section VII. I had the honor of meeting someone who served on the review committee, and apparently the district at first incorrectly used a rubric that didn’t honor religions which do not refer to religious leaders or authorities, and they incorrectly applied form 1-CS. Once this particular district received training from a lawyer, those previously denied exemptions were then granted. I wonder if a similar misunderstanding happened at Peralta.
I understand that the new regulations were implemented very quickly and that therefore perhaps the district hasn’t had a chance to study the legal documents or confer with other districts on how to implement these new rules at such a rapid pace. I am attaching for you the excerpt from the Civil Rights Act pertaining to religious exemptions and sincerely held beliefs. Also, here is a link that the EEOC provided (Section 12: Religious Discrimination | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (eeoc.gov) on how the Civil Rights Act defines sincerely held religious beliefs. I submitted my exemption accommodation form in accordance with the Civil Rights Act, section VII. Denying my request constitutes a form of religious discrimination, but again, I assume that there may have been a misunderstanding in how to interpret the law. I assume it was not the district’s intention to discriminate against my sincerely held religious beliefs.
Two weeks ago, a student from one of my classes contacted me to inquire whether I am teaching other classes next semester she could take. I had to be honest with her that, while I am scheduled to teach two courses, my exemption request was denied, and therefore that I am not sure whether the classes I am scheduled for will run or whether it will be taught by me or someone else. Last week, she inquired again, and I told her I would check in with you.
My Phil 10 class for next semester is already full. My Human 2 class is already half full. I understand that enrollment has been a challenge for the district. I assume it would not be in the district’s best interest to discontinue my classes.
What should I tell my student? Should I be honest that I am not sure yet and that it is possible that I may get suspended for my sincerely held religious beliefs? For the time being, I assured the student that there may have simply been a misunderstanding.
What should I tell my students who have already signed up for my classes next semester? Should I tell them to disenroll, or to look for classes at other districts, just to make sure?
I also feel moved to share that currently, in my country of origin (Austria) and neighboring countries, a rapidly growing number of groups are gathering weekly to pray the rosary in the spirit of inclusion, nondiscrimination, and peace. Österreich Betet (xn--sterreich-betet-7sb.at); https://t.me/oesterreichbetet. Bishop Schneider recently issued a statement supporting this growing movement. In his appeal to the public, he alluded to the historic movement of rosary marches that put an end to Soviet occupation in Austria in the 1950s (Weibischof erbittet Segen für Demo gegen die Covid-Tyrannei heute in Wien – Aktuelle Nachrichten (aktuelle-nachrichten.app). As I pointed out as part of my accommodation statement, I am concerned that current policies contribute to discrimination against already marginalized student populations and that they are a form of coercion, which is a form of violence. Any forms of discrimination and violence go against my sincerely held religious beliefs, as I have previously stated.
I grew up in the Catholic tradition, and I have joined the growing movement in many countries to pray for a peaceful resolution of this global challenge in the spirit of nonviolence.
Finally, as a citizen of a country that was complicit in the horrors of the holocaust, and as a lifelong human rights activist, I’d like to reiterate (as Prof. Dr. Peter McCullough recently reminded us), that the current policies by the district are in violation of multiple international agreements, including:
1) The Nuremberg Code: http://minst.org/library_nuremberg_code.html (which was put in place so that the horrors of medical experimentation during the holocaust would never repeat themselves)
2) UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (art.6): https://forskningsetikk.no/en/resources/the-research-ethics-library/legal-statutes-and-guidelines/declaration-of-helsinki/
3) UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 7): http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=31058&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
4) UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 3): https://un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
Many of my colleagues at other institutions have pointed this out to their respective administrations. Here is just a small sample:
Prof. Dr. Karen Mossman: Open Letter to McMaster University: A Good Faith Letter in Defense of Research Ethics and Human Dignity – Doctors for COVID Ethics (doctors4covidethics.org)
Prof. Dr. Tyrone Howard (UCLA: Director of Black Male Institute). California vaccine mandate: Are rules worsening inequality? - CalMatters
Prof. Dr. Julie Ponesse, Prof. of Ethics (who was suspended due to the mandates): University Vaccine Mandates: Ethical Considerations – Canadian Covid Care Alliance
Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can provide any further information. I look forward to hearing from you.
Many blessings. May everyone at Peralta be well, healthy, thriving, and at peace,
Barbara Widhalm, Ph.D.
Wow Barbara, you are a true warrior! Thank you for sharing this beautifully written and very educational letter. This may help many. I will share it. Thank you dear one. ❤️
God Bless and keep you! Thank you for writing this.