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Opinion Saying goodbye to an ugly, lingering prejudice

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    Saying goodbye to an ugly, lingering prejudice

    By The Oregonian Editorial Board

    November 29, 2009, 2:29PM

    Teachers should of course be as free as other Oregonians are, to wear head gear or other religious garb in their classrooms.
    He "happened to possess winning initials.”
    That’s not exactly high praise. But, according to the Oregon Blue Book, that’s Kaspar K. Kubli’s claim to fame. In a dark chapter of Oregon history in the 1920s, Kubli, then speaker of the Oregon House, became synonymous with another KKK — the Ku Klux Klan.

    Incredibly, and shamefully, the Kubli-Klan legacy still lives on in our state, or at least one powerful remnant does. In 1923, Kubli helped pass a statute that prohibits teachers from wearing religious garb in the classroom.

    The aim, at the time, was shockingly simple: It targeted Catholics. The intent was to keep nuns and priests out of schools. In the xenophobic spirit of the times, religious garb equated to all things foreign, strange and scary.
    Today, thank goodness, we’re living in a very different Oregon. As The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported in 2008, 30 percent of Oregonians are evangelical Protestants; 27 percent are, famously, unaffiliated with any faith; 16 percent are mainline Protestants; 14 percent are Catholics; 5 percent are Mormons; 2 percent are Buddhists; 1 percent are Jewish; and 2 percent are “other” — something else entirely.

    Yet, despite our breadth of beliefs, and our freedom of religion, that archaic ban on religious garb in the classroom remains in place.
    Earlier this year, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 786, the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which allows all workers — except teachers — to wear religious dress under most circumstances, and observe their holy days.

    Now, in the February session, House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, is determined to finish the job — and he should. The Legislature must repeal that 1923 law and give teachers the same religious freedom other Oregonians enjoy.

    Today, Hunt has said, some Sikhs and Muslims have to choose between the teaching profession and their faiths. They’ve been told they won’t get a job unless they remove their head coverings.

    That is wrong. But surprisingly perhaps, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is urging the Legislature not to rush through an approval of religious headgear and dress in the classroom in February.

    The concern, says the ACLU’s David Fidanque, is that Oregon needs to be careful to protect the religious neutrality of its schools.

    Wearing a Sikh turban, called a dastaar, or some other emblem of religious faith would not appear to promote a faith or cross the line into proselytizing. But it could become harder to draw that line once the ban is gone. A school district would lose the ability to say no to a school employee’s subjectively determined dutiful expression of belief.

    “All students and their families should feel welcome, and that’s as important, if not more important than teachers’ freedom of religious expression,” Fidanque told The Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond.

    He has a point. Some re-calibrations to ensure that classrooms remain neutral ground may be required. But in our view, safeguarding the emblems of a wider spectrum of religious beliefs in a school will work to promote a wider welcome for Oregonians of all faiths.

    Kaspar K. Kubli is long gone. By removing the ban, the Legislature can say a final good riddance.
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