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?