Last week I had the opportunity again (the last of this session, probably) to testify in front of the Washington State Legislature. This time it was in front of the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of Substitute Senate Bill 5173, which would create two unpaid holidays of faith and conscience for students and public employees. This is an important step for religious liberty, especially for Jews who have to continually negotiate to take days off on holidays. Here are my words:
Members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Rabbi Seth Goldstein, and I serve Temple Beth Hatfiloh, the Jewish community of Olympia, and I am also here representing the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the Jewish Coalition for Justice in strong support of SSB 5173.
As a member of a religious minority in this country, I recognize the benefit I have received from the right to religious liberty. This bill recognizes that along with the freedom of conscience that comes with that right of religious liberty, so too must there be a freedom to worship and celebrate according to one’s beliefs. Although religious liberty is guaranteed, its execution often runs up against practical difficulties, especially when holidays and celebrations conflict with the normal course of our civic life and calendar.
Jewish practice is based on a lunar calendar, so therefore in relation to our common Gregorian calendar, the Jewish festivals often fall on weekdays, and do not fall on the same (Gregorian) date from year to year.
In order to fully observe these holidays—and not every holiday requires a day off—students and parents must negotiate a day off from school, and others a day off of work. In my own experience as a congregational rabbi and as a parent of school-aged children, this sometimes goes smoothly, and sometimes does not. This bill will go a long way to not only protect those students and employees from what they then perceive to be discrimination, whether intended or not, and also educate people about faiths and celebrations different than their own.
The Jewish community, along with our Muslim brothers and sisters and others, do not seek any special considerations outside those granted to all—the ability to assemble and worship without fear of reprisal, punishment or being made to feel that our faith is inconvenient or second class. To that end I urge the support of SSB 5173.