source: http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/opinion/display_editorial.htm?StoryID=92888 Tur-ban Frederick News Post - July 22, 2009 In general, school districts and the courts have tended to rule against expressions of religion in public schools, even to the extent of barring a brief mention of faith from a high school valedictorian's speech. Sunday's edition of The Washington Post carried a story on this theme, this one from the Pacific Northwest. Oregon has just passed a law called the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, now awaiting the governor's signature. Essentially, it requires all employers to allow their workers to wear religious items -- a victory for religious expression in everyday life. The one exception to Oregon's new law involves its public schools. On that subject, the new law reads: "No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher." The problem is that this law sets up a classic confrontation between two clauses in the First Amendment. The Establishment clause forbids the state from favoring or disfavoring one religion over another, but the Free Exercise clause instructs government to let religious folks do their thing. Predictably, the Oregon school exception is already under fire from several quarters. Muslims and Sikhs are among those who object. One group, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, says: "In effect, 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 really, counters spokesman Ibrahim Hooper of 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." Hooper's position on this is sound and rational. A number of online comments were included with the story in The Post, and most of them spoke to the can of worms the new law would open. One blogger posed this situation. A Sikh would be barred from wearing a turban because it was an expression of his religion. Could an atheist in the same school wear a turban simply because he thought it made him look handsome? We predict this one exception to what is otherwise a sensible law will cause Oregon all manner of grief because, among other things, it draws the fallacious conclusion that wearing garb in observance of one's religion amounts to promoting that religion. To be sure, living in a constitutional democracy is often nettlesome. Still, it beats living in a place where a man can get flogged for cutting his beard -- or a woman for showing her face.