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Oregon's Fashion Police
by David Waters
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."
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