Our contributors had some rather surprising reactions to the thread posted about a month ago on Sarkozy’s pronouncement about the burka not belonging in France.  A similar argument might be moving across the big pond.  This is one of those articles I will just post.  You be the judge. 

Washington Post 7/19/09

Oregon’s Fashion Police

Should your child’s teacher wear a turban, a hijab, a kippah or other “religious dress’? The state of Oregon doesn’t think so. The Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, now awaiting the governor’s signature, requires all employers to let workers wear religious items with one exception: “No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher.”


The proposed law has set up a classic religious liberty battle between the First Amendment’s Establishment clause, which tells government not to favor (or disfavor) one religion over another, and the Free Exercise clause, which tells government to leave the religious alone. The new law also reflects the increasing difficulty of accommodating a widening variety of religious faiths in a pluralistic society.

Organizations representing Sikhs and Muslims claim the new law would unconstitutionally limits their religious freedom. They are asking Gov. Ted Kulongoski to veto the bill. “In effect,” argues the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “observant Sikh Americans would still be barred from working as teachers in the public schools of Oregon because of their religiously-mandated dastaars (turbans), and observant Jews and Muslims would also be subjected to the ignominy of having to choose between religious freedom and a teaching career in the State of Oregon.”

But Oregon’s Department of Education argues that public schools are obligated to maintain religious neutrality: “The underlying policy reflects the unique position that teachers occupy,” spokesman Jake Weigler told the Oregonian. “In this case, the concern that a public school teacher would be imparting religious values to their students outweighs that teacher’s right to free expression.”

Not quite, argues the Council on American-Islamic Relations: “Those who wear religiously-mandated attire are not proselytizing; they are practicing their faith, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Concerns about religious neutrality in schools can be adequately addressed through professional codes of conduct,” spokesman Ibrahim Hooper says in a statement.

Oregon already bans teachers from wearing “religious dress.” The new law allows other workers to wear religious items while maintaining the ban for teachers only. The Oregon ban was tested in the 1980s when a Sikh teacher was suspended for wearing a white turban and white clothes to class.

“In its 1986 decision Cooper v. Eugene School District, the Oregon Supreme Court . . . upheld the state law, (writing) that “the aim of maintaining the religious neutrality of the public schools furthers a constitutional obligation beyond an ordinary policy preference of the legislature,” the First Amendment Center reports. Courts also have upheld a similar law in Pennsylvania.

Turbans, kippahs, headscarves and other items of clothing obviously qualify as “religious dress.” But what about crosses, Stars of David, the Hindu tilaka (forehead marks), or other religious symbols that are less apparent? What about “religious dress” that isn’t at all apparent, such as undergarments worn by Latter-day Saints or long hair or bears worn by some for religious reasons? Who gets to decide?

On the other hand, most schools have basic dress codes for teachers and students. If schools can ban tank tops or gang symbols, why not turbans or religious symbols?


Pretty rough on the teachers.  However, do you want your child in class with someone who is ‘wearing their religion on their sleeve?’  Are school children captive audiences?

Is there any harm in being exposed to other religions?  Would you rather have this out in the open than someone doing it in secret?  It is pretty hard to hide a turban. 


Would you want your child taught to read by someone whose face is covered?  Will this case be headed straight to the Supreme Court?




63 Thoughts to “More First Amendment Challenges?”

  1. @Moon-howler
    “I think it is the school’s place to teach that we are courteous to all who attend. We don’t point at kids in wheel chairs or stare at those kids wearing turbans and we don’t torture or mimick those who appear ‘gay.’ This teaching goes hand in hand with the social reminders teachers have been handling since the beginning of time.”

    Yes, but in doing this, we are basically saying, “Hey, people are different, but that doesn’t mean we treat them differently.”

    I think we are saying something similar, but when I use the word “diversity” it strikes some nerve somewhere with a lot of people.

  2. GainesvileResident

    That’s funny about the fish sticks and rye bread, MH! Indeed, things are a lot different up in NJ than here. And, down here, no one has a clue as to how to make good Jewish rye bread, which I really miss. Whenever I get up to NJ, I make sure to have some. Then again, the bagels down here aren’t like the real thing either. Get a bagel from NYC and you’ll realize how much better they are compared to any down here. No comparison, but maybe I’m very picky about my bagels. The ones down here are OK, but as far as I’m concerned aren’t the same as the ones you get from NYC – which the local Jewish bakery where I grew up had them sent down fresh to them each morning. Anyway, I digress – and this is a bit off topic – as we were talking about religious forms of dress, not of religious or ethnic foods!

  3. GainesvileResident

    Actually, I think at the time my parents’ main objection was, what did Jesus Christ, Superstar, HAVE to do with American History. The entire year all we did was go through American History from the time of the Pilgrims, all the way up to the present. Then, out of the blue, “we’re going to take the entire history class to go see Jesus Christ, Superstar”. Smelled of some religous agenda to me, now that I look back on it. If it had been a trip on a weekend, and been more optional, I think my parents wouldn’t have made such a big deal. The fact that it took the whole class out of school for the entire day – and as 99% of the people in my history class were in all my other classes – it effectively made it useless to go to school that day, IF you did not go on the field trip to see the broadway play. Actually, there were 2 or 3 other Jews in that class, and their parents and my parents talked, and all of 3 or 4 of us (including me) did not go on that trip, and stayed home from school that day. Well, actually my uncle took me down to Valley Forge that day – as he took off from work I guess – and must have felt that would be a better alternative! I had forgotten about all this, so it is fun to think back on it – this was in the spring of 1972! A LONG time ago!

  4. Emma

    Speaking of Jesus Christ, Superstar, it took me years to realize that Jesus couldn’t possibly have looked like blonde, blue-eyed Ted Neely, as cute as HE was.

  5. @GainesvileResident
    What the hell? LOL!

    Now, I think parents would have the choice of an opt-out. I generally get these forms whenever the teacher is going to show a movie.

  6. Emma

    They opt out and then spend the time existing and not getting any real instruction while the others are getting indoctrinated. Stick to the basics and everyone can stay in class all day.

  7. Emma, you are probably right about sticking to the basics. However, those bullying programs are an unfortunate necessity.

    And those multi-cultural fests are really cool! They take place after school, however.

  8. And actually, the movies have been curriculum relates. Some parents are just REALLY strict about what their kids see. (I believe one of the movies my middle school daughter saw in science was “Apollo 15” or “13” or some number…there might have been a cuss word or two.)

  9. Moon-howler

    Parents should be strict about what their kids see, within reason. There is way too much sex and violence for young children.

    Pinko, you said the magic words: after school
    ding ding ding

    The bully classes are incredibly boring, according to my sources. I think bullying needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, bullying rarely takes place where adults see it. Kids have to somehow get over be frightened of being rat finks. Bullying needs to called out and dealt with swiftly.

  10. Leila

    I doubt this law could pass Constitutional muster. If I were a citizen of Oregon, I would be really disgusted that my state would want to spend money defending this ban in court. It has to apply to religious symbols such as any crucifix, since intent is not the issue, the symbol is.

    If you want to ban the turban-wearing Sikh, kippah-wearing Jew, or Muslim or other religiously observant woman with a headcovering, than you must ban the teacher who likes her grandma’s tiny gold cross. What a ridiculous thing to worry about given the wider problems of the education system.

  11. Moon-howler

    It has been the law since back in the 80’s. It has had plenty of time to be challenged and rechallenged.

    There is no right to teach. There is a right to be in a neutral zone for 7 hours a day.

    Oregon already bans teachers from wearing “religious dress.” The new law allows other workers to wear religious items while maintaining the ban for teachers only. The Oregon ban was tested in the 1980s when a Sikh teacher was suspended for wearing a white turban and white clothes to class.

    “In its 1986 decision Cooper v. Eugene School District, the Oregon Supreme Court . . . upheld the state law, (writing) that “the aim of maintaining the religious neutrality of the public schools furthers a constitutional obligation beyond an ordinary policy preference of the legislature,” the First Amendment Center reports. Courts also have upheld a similar law in Pennsylvania.

    I don’t think there are black or white answers here and that there is lots of room for debate. We have sure gotten that.

  12. Leila

    Is there a U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the Oregon law or one exactly like it? That is what I was thinking of. Lots of state laws that might be ultimately judged as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court have been affirmed by state courts until a test case is brought and makes its way all the way up. I see from the same center mentioned above instances when federal judges have ruled such policies unconstitutional in cases related to similar kinds of employees:


    among others.

    I would just hope then that any Jew or Muslim or Amish person, for example, denied the right to work as a public school teacher while wearing a simple headcovering would make sure that not a single crucifix or other kind of religious symbol, no matter how small, would be tolerated whether on the person or property of a fellow teacher. Generally it is members of minority religious groups who end up being told they cannot wear religiously observant clothing or ornaments rather than members of the majority religion. I think that context is important. It certainly was in France when the ban on the Muslim head scarf for school girls allowed Christian school girls to still wear cruficixes. This is what ultimately worries me. Mainstream Christianity is the default religion for a majority in this country, so it attains a certain invisibility and its expression in non-obtrusive ways is ignored. I have no problem at all banning any form of religious proselytization in a classroom by a teacher. But I think the Supreme Court in Tinker (1969) left the door open for religious expression that falls far short of proselytization.

    From that center’s site: “The U.S. Supreme Court stated in its famous 1969 opinion in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that “it can hardly be argued that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court articulated that public school teachers, as public employees, do not forfeit all of their First Amendment freedoms when they come to school.”

    For me the issue has to be one of reasonableness and equity. Aren’t these things always a judgment call in our society? I believe in the separation of church and state, but obviously we don’t apply it strictly. Why is Christmas a federal holiday for example? I don’t have any problem with it being one, but it is obviously the government favoring not just religion, but a particular religion. So a judgment was made that in this case, and many others, the rules didn’t apply. If one can be reasonable about that, one can decide not to force, for example, a brilliant math teacher from choosing between his/her faith and his her vocational calling.

  13. Moon-howler

    I don’t know and have not have much luck finding out. I don’t know what currently exists other than from that one article. And we all know how articles can be wrong.

    The options I can see for the brilliant math teacher would be to teach in private school or to apply in areas where there are no laws about religigous garb. There is not right to employment in the field of education.

    How many people have been denied teaching jobs because of visible tattoos that job applicants stupidly did not cover? How many people have been denied jobs because of hair dos? Strange dress? I don’t know but I feel confident it happens all the time.

    The other unknown is also how strictly is the current law enforced? Are small crosses and Stars of David banned if visible? How about tiny, unobtusive caste marks? Who gets to decide?

    I don’t know.

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