New York state will be implementing a change to the fire code at the end of December regarding open flames, which could conflict with some students’ religious practices.
Grace Hoefner, senior associate director for Residential Life, sent an e-mail to on-campus students on Nov. 30 informing them of the upcoming change.
Like the current housing policy regarding open flames, this policy requires students to get permission from their resident or community director to use candles or incense to observe religious holidays.
But the new housing policy, which goes into effect Dec. 28, does not allow students to have open flames in their rooms, suites or apartments. There will instead be a room designated by the resident or community director where open flames are permitted.
“In these instances, candles and incense may never be left unattended and any unburnt remains must be extinguished and disposed of safely because it cannot be brought back to the bedroom, suite or apartment,” the new policy states.
These areas will be non-living spaces within a community or hall and will be worked out in accordance with Fire Protection Specialist Bret Welch, Hoefner said.
Sumeet Kalantry, a senior double-majoring in political science and English, is a practicing Hindu who is currently a resident in Dickinson Community.
Kalantry explained that lighting candles is considered an offering in Hinduism. It is a ritual to light incense every morning after a shower, he said.
However, since he lives in a community that has just had new fire alarms installed, Kalantry does not light incense regularly to avoid any problems.
“I can get the same effect by not lighting the incense but just having it there unlit,” Kalantry said. “If I really did care that much about it, it wouldn’t make a difference if it was in a public place.”
Kalantry noted, however, that for those who are not as religiously flexible as he is, there may be problems with the new policy.
For others in the religious community, the new policy brings into question the idea of the freedom of religion.
“The new policy, which issues a blanket prohibition against candles in any living space, will make it difficult for many Jewish students to celebrate freely,” said Raanan Korinow, a junior majoring in computer science.
Korinow explained that Jews light candles for three recurring events: the start of Shabbat, the anniversary of a relative’s death and Hanukkah.
According to Korinow, not being able to light candles suppresses First Amendment rights.
Another major issue that Korinow has with the new policy is that religious groups were not contacted to discuss the implications of the policy on religious life.
“I hope the University will extend their arm to work with student groups and religious leaders to accommodate our needs,” he said.
Some students also feel like this new policy could limit a person’s religious experience.
“There are some times when religion is a communal celebration and there are other times when religion is a private experience,” said Johanna Sanders, a sophomore majoring in political science. “Not being able to light candles in your room for various religious groups limits their spiritual connections.”