An Orthodox Jew Says El Centro College Threatened to Boot Him from Nursing School for Missing Class on Rosh Hashanah [Updated]

Updated at 4:56 p.m.: Dallas County Community College District sends word that, following a hearing in federal court this afternoon, they have agreed to allow Rodin to observer all the holidays.

"Rodin has agreed to make up those clinical requirements on appropriate dates in January 2014," DCCCD says in a statement. "Both parties agreed on the resolution to Mr. Rodin's complaint prior to the scheduled 2 p.m. hearing in Federal District Court with Judge Sam Lindsey."

Original post: Tomorrow, Hillel Rodin is scheduled to begin his second semester in the nursing program at Dallas' El Centro Community College. He is also scheduled to observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year and one of the holiest days in Judaism. Therein lies his problem.

Rodin is an Orthodox Jew. His religious beliefs prevent him from working, driving, writing, touching money or using electricity on the sabbath and certain holy days, including this one. That means he'll miss a mandatory orientation on Thursday, as well as four additional days of clinical observation and coursework at Medical City. As a result, El Centro is threatening to kick him out of school, according to a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

Rodin says he's tried to work with the school, offering to make up his missed days or sit in on identical classes scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week. Instead, according to the suit, El Centro nursing dean Joan Becker advised that he seek a dispensation from his rabbi allowing him to attend class on the holy days in question.

Later, by way of a compromise, she presented him with a contract (see document below) that, rather than excusing him from class, proposed to work around the prohibitions of Jewish law. On Rosh Hashanah, for example, he would arrive on time at 9 a.m., presumably on foot, and complete the required tour "without using electric doors or elevators." He would submit as much required paperwork as possible before the start of the holiday at sundown on Wednesday evening, but the contract notes that he might be required to fill out additional paperwork on-site.

The prescriptions for the other days were similar, with the main concession being that Rodin would be allowed to write observations and diagnoses at the end of his holiday. It grants him one absence, on September 26. If he missed or showed up 15 minutes late for any of the classes, he would fail the class, the contract states.

This, according to the lawsuit, violates Rodin's rights under Texas' Religious Freedom Protection Act, which requires government agencies to accommodate anyone whose actions are "substantially motivated by sincere religious belief." Rodin attached an affidavit from his rabbi at Congregation Ohev Shalom, who also happens to be his father, attesting to the sincerity of his faith.

Furthermore, Rodin argues, the refusal to offer religious accommodation, and the "contempt" with which this was done, amounts to an unconstitutional establishment of religion, since time off for Christian holy days like Christmas, Easter and Good Friday are baked into the school's calendar.

Rodin's demands are modest. He's asking the court merely to declare that El Centro is wrong, force them to excuse him for the Jewish holidays, and award court costs and attorneys' fees.

We've reached out to the Dallas County Community College District for comment. We'll update when we hear back.

Update at 11:27 a.m.: The district passed along the following response:

DCCCD has received notice of the lawsuit filed by nursing student Hillel Rodin who is enrolled at El Centro College and who alleges that the nursing program has violated his religious rights. A hearing is scheduled today at 2 p.m. in federal court; the plaintiff has requested a temporary restraining order. The district will have legal counsel at the hearing; we are waiting for the judge's ruling before we can respond. If the suit moves forward, a second hearing concerning a permanent injunction would occur; the district would be given time to investigate and, if needed, take appropriate measures.

Because we have just received the document, we cannot provide any details or information until we have some direction from the court.

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