oregon workplace religious freedom act... and the kkk

I received this intriguing community advisory from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Eduation Fund, regarding a recently enacted law in Oregon called th Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act. The law sounds like it ensure certain liberties for religious minorities, but it has some major complications... and believe it or not, it involves the legacy of the KKK. Read on:
Religious Freedom v. Ku Klux Klan

July 22, 2009 (Washington, DC) - The State of Oregon recently enacted a law called the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). Although this should have generated fanfare among religious minorities, for whom there is insufficient protection under federal employment discrimination laws, Oregon's WRFA has, in fact, generated enormous protest among Sikh Americans and a diverse coalition of religious groups and civil libertarians throughout the nation.

What is the problem?

The problem is that Oregon's WRFA does not apply to public school teachers who wear religious clothing in private adherence to faith. Although Oregon's WRFA undoubtedly expands workplace religious freedom for most Oregonians, the public school exemption was designed to preserve an archaic law—enacted with the support of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s—which forbids public school teachers from wearing any form of religious clothing. In effect, observant Sikhs, Muslims, Jews—and others who wear religious clothing in private adherence to faith—are shut out of the teaching profession in Oregon. With the possible exception of Pennsylvania, no other state in the country restricts public school teachers in this manner.

When did the Ku Klux Klan come into the picture?

Oregon's teacher garb law was enacted nearly a century ago by sympathizers of the Ku Klux Klan for the purpose of suppressing Catholics. According to The Oregon Bluebook, an official publication of the State of Oregon about its own history:

"The Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a warm reception from many Oregon communities in the 1920s as Catholics and minorities suffered both blatant and subtle bigotry. The Klan, FOPS, and Scottish Rite Masons sponsored a bill, passed in 1922 in the general election, to compel all children to attend public schools. The overtly anti-Catholic measure threatened to close all parochial schools and military academies ... The legislature also passed a law forbidding wearing of sectarian clothing, namely priestly vestments or nuns' habits, in classrooms."

What is SALDEF's position on this issue?

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) rejects Oregon's antiquated and immoral teacher garb law and demands an immediate repeal.
Here's what you can do to help... basically, spread the word. Most people don't know that the Oregon teacher garb statute was enacted in the 1920s by the KKK for the purpose of suppressing Catholics. Reach out to your friends in the interfaith community and spread the word about what's happening in Oregon.

If you live in Oregon, contact your state representative and ask them whether they can commit to moving beyond the 1920s and repealing Oregon's teacher garb statute during the next legislative session.

For more information about this issue visit the SAALDEF website here. And read more here: Sikhs protest school exemption in Oregon religious freedom bill. And here: With liberty for (almost) all. And here: Oregon law is too strict on teachers' religious garb.

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