Oregon House To Vote On February 10 On Religious Freedom In The Classroom
Early last week the North American Religious Liberty Association signed on to a interfaith letter sent to Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt and Senate President Peter Courtney calling on the Oregon legislature to immediately repeal an Oregon law that forbids teachers from wearing religious dress in Oregon public schools.  It appears that such letters and growing public opposition has had a desired effect.
"The Oregon House Education Committee voted 6-4 to refer to the full House a measure that will repeal Oregon's ban on teachers' religious garb," noted Rajdeep Singh, the Director of Law and Policy of The Sikh Coalition in Washington, DC.  A vote in the Oregon House is scheduled for Feb. 10th.  To Singh's knowledge this is the first time ever that the cause of repeal has made it this far.
The Oregon law has come to light as a result of the Oregon's last summer passage of the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act which specifically exempted public school districts, education service districts, and public charter schools from its coverage. That meant a law which originated in the 1920s as an anti-Catholic measure and supported by the Ku Klux Klan at a time of overt hostility toward racial and religious minorities remained in effect.  Other laws enacted by the Oregon legislature during that period included the Compulsory Education Act (a measure designed to close parochial schools); the Alien Business Registration Act of 1923 (a law that required immigrants operating hotels and grocery stores to display signs declaring their nationality); and the Alien Property Act of 1923 (a law that prohibited Japanese immigrants from purchasing or leasing land in Oregon). Although most of these laws have since been repealed, Oregon missed several opportunities to repeal the law forbidding teachers from wearing religious dress.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have argued for the status quo.  They fear that allowing public school teachers to wear religious dress will disrupt religious neutrality in the classroom and lead to proselytization of students.
"It is amazing that Oregon, of all places, would want to keep religious minorities from getting a fair shot at public school jobs," said Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  "Why should anyone care if Mr. Singh wears a turban while teaching physics class? ....  You wouldn't think that the ACLU would be channeling the Klan," said Rassbach. "But sadly the ACLU is doing everything it can to keep religious Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, and Catholics from being public school teachers."
"We are now at a critical moment," Barry Bussey, Executive Director of NARLA, says, "now is the time for constituents to let the Oregon legislature know that they support religious freedom for public school teachers to wear their religious clothing.  Certainly we have come to a point in the history of civil rights in this country that we can understand the importance of why this repeal is necessary.  It is the promise of America that all be treated with mutual respect on such intimately private matters as religious belief and practice."