Oregon Moves To Repeal Teacher Garb Ban

The Oregon House of Representatives has approved a bill that will repeal a 1923 law that bars teachers from wearing religious garb in public school classrooms.

Americans United, concerned the language in the bill does not sufficiently protect the religious liberty rights of students, provided testimony before the House Education Committee Hearing urging legislators to vote against it.

AU believes that even though the repeal is being pitched as a way to allow certain members of minority religions to serve as public school teachers, the bill may not be limited to dastars (turbans), hijabs and yarmulkes. As currently written, the bill could allow teachers to claim any attire as part of their religious exercise. For example, teachers may wear proselytizing buttons if they believe it is part of their “religious beliefs.”

“Americans United strongly supports free exercise, but firmly believes it must be partnered with safeguards to prevent the appearance of favoritism or approval of religion by schools and any interference with a school’s educational mission,” AU said in a statement to the committee. “But by advancing free exercise interests of public school teachers without adequately accounting for these obligations, a repeal risks weakening religious liberty.”

The bill now moves to the state Senate, where a vote was pending as Church & State went to press.