Sikh Teachers Are Now Able to Teach in Oregon Public SchoolsApril 2nd, 2010
Washington D.C., April 2, 2010 — Yesterday, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed legislation reversing an 87-year old law preventing public school teachers in the state from wearing religious clothing and articles of faith. The repeal of the long standing law now allows observant Americans from Sikh, Jewish, Muslim and other faith groups who wear religiously mandated clothing to teach in public schools.
“House Bill 3686 received passage through the culmination of deep dedication and hard work of legislators, elected officials, local teachers and students, and state and national organizations,” said Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt, chief sponsor of the bill. “The commitment and effort of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund played a key role in ensuring that every Oregon citizen has the right to teach in our classrooms while maintaining religious free exercise.”
In the summer of 2009, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest Sikh civil rights advocacy organization, initiated a campaign to overturn ORS 342.650, which effectively forbids Sikh teachers from serving in Oregon public schools. Over the past several months, SALDEF has worked closely with Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt and a broad coalition of Oregon faith groups and individuals to engage in outreach to Oregon legislators, provide testimony at House hearings, and mobilize community support for the repeal of this law.
“For the first time in 87 years, an observant Sikh, Muslim, Jew or Christian will not have to decide between their faith and their profession,” said Sathanuman Singh Khalsa, Northwest Regional Director of SALDEF, immediately after the signing of the bill by the Governor. “These are the moments in our collective histories that mark progress. It was truly an interfaith effort.”
The commitment and effort of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund played a key role in ensuring that every Oregon citizen has the right to teach in our classrooms while maintaining religious free exercise.”
— Oregon Speaker Dave Hunt
Last week, SALDEF initiated a final letter writing campaign urging community members of all faiths to write to the Governor to sign the legislation. Supporters wrote thousands of letters in support of the repealing of this law dating back to the Ku Klux Klan era of the 1920’s.
“SALDEF has worked consistently to defend the right of all Americans to wear religious attire in the workplace, in schools, in courtrooms, and as customers in public venues,” said SALDEF Associate Executive Director Jasjit Singh. “We congratulate the State of Oregon on the repeal of the ban on teachers’ religious attire and look to legislators in Pennsylvania and Nebraska (the two remaining states who have such statues) to follow Oregon’s lead of respect for religious freedom and diversity.”
Additionally, SALDEF would like to thank Oregon Speaker Dave Hunt and his staff, Oregon attorney and advocate Saba Ahmed for her tireless efforts in leading this campaign, Ravitej Singh Khalsa for his stallworth dedication to this effort for nearly 20 years, and the numerous organizations and individuals that supported this tremendous victory.
Finally, prior to the new law being enacted in 2011, Oregon’s state administrative agenencies will develop guidelines as to how the law will be rolled out and applied to the State’s schools. SALDEF will be closely monitoring these discussions to ensure that the intent of the Oregon Legislature and Governor is met and that no teacher’s are subject to religious discrimination in Oregon.
To read about other legislative efforts SALDEF has been or is currently engaged with over the past year, please see below: