Bill Bars Religious Attire for Teachers

July 19, 2009

Author: Greg Bolt

Source: The Register-Guard

Workers in Oregon will be able to wear a turban or yarmulke on the job under a bill passed by the state Legislature that protects religious practices for almost everyone, except public school teachers.

The bill, expected to be signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, keeps in place a controversial clause for public school teachers that prohibits them from wearing religious attire while doing their jobs. Written decades ago, presumably to enforce the constitutional separation of church and state, the clause has drawn the ire of some religious groups. And groups are angry that the new bill, while expanding the clothing rights of many workers, would continue to restrict teachers’ rights.

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund has sent a letter to Kulongoski urging him to veto the bill, known as the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, because it treats teachers differently from all other workers. The group is asking others to call or e-mail the governor with the same message.

In his letter, Rajdeep Singh Jolly, law and policy director of the Sikh group, called the exemption a “gaping hole” that “cannot be reconciled with the spirit behind robust workplace religious freedom legislation.”