Photo source : The Oregonian
Since 1923, it has been illegal in Oregon for teachers to wear religious clothing in the classroom. This ban may be eliminated in February, paving the way for teachers to show their religious affiliation to their students, according to a recent article in The Oregonian (via The Focus).
As with the issue of burqas in France (or even burqini swimsuits in England), this is a tricky one. Currently, teachers in Oregon are not allowed to wear anything identifiably religious, such as “turbans, yarmulkes, crosses and headscarves” according to the Oregonian. Dave Hunt, speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, says the law dates back to anti-immigrant hatred against Catholics. The legislature is expected to vote on removing this ban, after a similar law for allowing religious symbols at private-sector jobs was recently passed in the state.
Currently, the law is applied unevenly, according to Hunt.
“Teachers in some school districts are allowed to wear yarmulkes or crosses, while in other areas, they are forbidden. He has found no examples of a public school teacher being permitted to wear a Sikh turban or a Muslim headscarf”
But is lifting the ban the right solution? I don’t think that teachers should try to proselytize among their students, that much is clear. But a ban on overt religious symbols would tend to disfavor people of certain religions over others.
Most Christian teachers, for example, could simply not wear their cross, or wear it under their shirts out of sight. A Muslim woman who believes she must cover her head, however, can be precluded from teaching at all unless she gives up her headscarf, which many believe are a required part of their religion.
At the same time, I think required headscarves are sexist and should not be endorsed by the government. If a kid sees their teacher wearing a headscarf, that makes it seem like it’s okay to do. I don’t think children should be taught that women should be subjugated to men. Plus, you can bet that once the ban is lifted, there will be teachers who will wear crosses as well, promoting their religion to students as well, as well as teachers wearing clothes or accessories from other religious traditions. So it’s a sticky situation: possible exclusion of Muslims or others if the ban is in place, possible endorsement of religion(s) if the ban is lifted.
It will be interesting to see what will happen in this case. The issue of the burqa, to my knowledge, has not flamed up here in the US anywhere near like it has in many European countries. Hopefully this situation will not be the start of a slippery slope towards more Muslim American women demeaning themselves for their religion, with the government’s blessing. Young, impressionable eyes will be watching.