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Student Requests for a Religious Accommodation

American University will make good faith efforts to provide reasonable religious accommodations to students whose sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with a university policy, procedure, or other academic requirement unless such an accommodation would create an undue hardship.

Please note: to receive a religious accommodation, the religious observance must be one required by one's religious tradition. The mere intersection of religion with the desired activity (e.g. weddings, baccalaureate services, etc.) does not guarantee that a religious accommodation will be granted. See the list of religious holidays requiring accommodation for more information. 

In all cases, students should seek to make arrangements with the appropriate University office first, contacting professors, residential life, or dining services. If that effort fails or if the particular University office has questions, students may then request a reasonable religious accommodation by making a written request to the University Chaplain. If you are a student and have a request for such a reasonable religious accommodation, please fill out the form below. It is recommended that the request be made as soon as the student is aware to allow sufficient time to engage in an interactive process to identify an appropriate accommodation.

Once a request for a reasonable religious accommodation is submitted, the University Chaplain will initiate an interactive process to determine if the request can be accommodated as requested and, if not, what, if any, alternative accommodations can be made. The University may request the student provide information to support the need for an accommodation based on the student's sincerely held religious belief. The University Chaplain will also consult with others related to the student's request.

Reasonable religious accommodation requests will be made on a case‐by‐case basis taking into account factors including but not limited to: nature of the accommodation requested; duration of the request; alternative accommodations; financial impact; academic impact; and other related factors.

PROCEDURE

Initiating a Request

All requests for a religious accommodation, with the exception of Academic accommodations (see, IV.C.4, below) begin with the Office of the University Chaplain. Students requesting accommodations are obligated to make the University aware of the need for a religious accommodation as soon as possible and in advance of the need of the accommodation. 

Submission of Requests

Students submit an accommodation request through an online form on the Kay website. A student’s submitted accommodation request should include relevant information such as:

  • a description of the accommodation you are requesting;
  • the reason you need an accommodation; and
  • how the accommodation will help resolve the conflict between your religious beliefs or practices and a university policy, procedure, or other academic requirement.
  • Please note: accommodations for religious observance may not be granted if the observance could be done at a time other than class time or at a location other than the preferred location (e.g. if there are additional services at other times, or services offered on campus versus at a home congregation). The Religious Accommodation policy guarantees that you are not unduly prevented from observing your religious practice; it does not necessarily guarantee the observance of that practice at a particular time or in a particular location.

Academic Accommodations

For Academic accommodations requests, students should seek to make arrangements with the appropriate professors first at the earliest opportunity. The Office of the University Chaplain has already communicated to the faculty via the Provost’s office a list of all major religious holidays. A full list of those holidays can also be found online at https://www.american.edu/ocl/kay/Major-Religious-Holy-Days.cfmStudents are required to check their course syllabi at the beginning of the semester and make any conflicts with religious observances known to their professors and make arrangements for missed classes or assignments. Requests for accommodation should be made at the earliest opportunity once a student has become aware that a conflict exists. Contact the University Chaplain’s Office only if your professor has refused to grant you an accommodation for a religious observance.

Providing Additional Documentation

Once a request for a reasonable religious accommodation is submitted, the University Chaplain will initiate an interactive process to determine if the request can be accommodated as requested and, if not, what, if any, alternative accommodations can be made. The University may request the student provide additional information to support the need for an accommodation based on the student’s sincerely held religious belief. The University Chaplain will also consult with others, including, but not limited to, the appropriate university offices related to the student’s request.

Determination of Accommodation

Reasonable religious accommodation decisions will be made on a case‐by‐case basis, taking into account factors including, but not limited to: nature of the accommodation requested; duration of the accommodation request; alternative accommodations available; financial impact for the student and the University; academic impact on the student and on the class; and other related factors. The University Chaplain will inform the student once a determination has been made. Particular considerations for different accommodation types include:

Housing

A request for a religious accommodation for housing must be made before housing is requested. For incoming students, a request must be made at the earliest possible opportunity after admission. A request for a religious accommodation for housing must document:

  • a description of the accommodation you are requesting;
  • the reason you need an accommodation; and
  • how the accommodation will help resolve the conflict between your religious beliefs or practices and a university policy, procedure, or other requirement.

Dining

A request for a religious accommodation for dining must be made at the earliest possible opportunity after admission. A request for a religious accommodation for dining must document:

  • description of the accommodation you are requesting;
  • the reason you need an accommodation; and
  • how the accommodation will help resolve the conflict between your religious beliefs or practices and a university policy, procedure, or other requirement.

Medical

As with housing and dining accommodations, medical accommodations should be made at the earliest possible opportunity after admission.

Immunizations

For exemptions to the District of Columbia immunization requirements, students should submit along with their requests:

  • A written letter to the chief official of the school, that states the immunization would violate his/her religious belief as required by DC Code Section 38-506.
  • A letter from a religious leader stating the need for an exemption. If the student does not belong to a religious community, the student may request a letter from the University Chaplain after due consultation with the University Chaplain.

Upon approval of a request for an immunization exemption, the student may be asked to sign a release acknowledging that in the event of an outbreak, the student may face particular restrictions regarding classes, housing, or other activities.

Academics

Academic accommodations are made according to the process outlined above. Particular considerations with regard to academic accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

Sabbath Days

If students are sabbath-observant, they must make this fact known to their professors for any course in which Saturday work is required.

Religious Holy Days

The most common request for a reasonable religious accommodation concerns class attendance during the observance of major religious holy days and celebrations. For a complete list of these holy days and observances, see the list of Major Religious Holy Days.

A religious accommodation is made to allow students to practice their religion. What this means is that the University will make a good faith effort to accommodate the exercise of your religious beliefs, but it does not mean that your accommodation will be exactly as you requested it. For example, it is a reasonable accommodation to allow you to miss class for a religious service taking place at the same time. It does not necessarily mean the University will accommodate extended periods of time to travel home to celebrate with one's family or home congregation. Students must consider that if the opportunity to participate in a religious observance exists that is an alternative to the sought after accommodation, this may factor into any decision. One example might be that a student requesting an absence from class for Ash Wednesday services at noon may not get an accommodation if there are other Ash Wednesday services later in the day when class is not in session. The accommodation ensures that students will be able to practice their religion; it does not automatically guarantee anything beyond that.

That is why the first step in any accommodation is for students to reach out to their professors early in the semester. Once the syllabus and class schedule have been distributed, students should check the class schedule against the list of major religious holy days to determine if there are any conflicts between class time and religious observance. Students should make arrangements with their faculty members for excused absences on those days to make up any work missed. If the faculty member is not amenable, a student may seek the help of the University Chaplain's office in determining whether a religious accommodation is warranted. This, too, should come as early as possible after having already attempted resolution with the professor. Generally, with the exception of emergencies, requests should not come later than two (2) weeks before the holy day in question.

Symbols of Religious Communities

Major Religious Holy Days

For a complete list of major religious holy days, including those for which mandatory observance and/or abstinence from work are required, click the link below.

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