Religious Calendar Insensitivities ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

March 30, 1993

The beginning of Passover is one of the more significant days in the Jewish religious calendar. The first evening's Seder, the sacramental meal, occurs after sundown next Monday.

Also scheduled to begin after sundown that evening is a hearing before the Anne Arundel County Council on a controversial bill that would ban smoking in many public establishments. Also scheduled is the monthly meeting of the Harford County Board of Education. In neither county was prior consideration given to the holiday, which reflects an official insensitivity -- inadvertent, we hope -- that should not recur.

The Anne Arundel council was informed of the conflict by lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who said that he would not be able to attend because of the religious obligation. Many Jewish men and women whose businesses are affected by the bill will have the same conflict, he said.

The fact that Mr. Bereano raised the issue may have prompted more council suspicions, given his reputation for legislative maneuvering. But his complaint is a valid one, even if some council members would crudely dismiss his concerns as simply those of a spokesman for the bill's opposition.

In Harford County, meanwhile, the school board's agenda next Monday does not contain such a controversial item. But the board allows public comment on non-agenda items only at the end of meetings. And recently, the commentary has been exceptionally heated on sex education, the school calendar and elementary school redistricting.

Furthermore, the Harford school board had already changed its regular meeting day, the second Monday of the month, because April 12 is Easter Monday, a Christian holiday with little religious significance but a public school holiday.

Ironically for the school board, this comes on the heels of a recent complaint that Harford's 1994 school year may begin the day before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (There has been no complaint yet about the Passover board meeting, a school official said.)

We recognize the difficulty in reconciling official calendars with religious calendars. But if meetings of major decision-making bodies are to encourage maximum input, a more enlightened effort should be made to recognize such obvious scheduling conflicts.

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