(WASHINGTON, D.C., 7/16/09) – A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today joined America’s Sikh community in expressing concerns about legislation awaiting the governor’s signature in Oregon that purports to broaden religious freedom, but would prohibit teachers from wearing religiously-mandated attire such as an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
[Media Advisory: Muslim students at Portland State University have planned a rally today from 4 to 6 p.m. (Pacific) at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland to express concerns about the legislation’s denial of the religious rights of teachers.]
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said a section of the “Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act” states:
“No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher. A school district, education service district or public charter school does not commit an unlawful employment practice under ORS chapter 659A by reason of prohibiting a teacher from wearing religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher.”
SEE: Sikhs Protest School Exemption in Oregon Religious Freedom Bill (Oregonian)
National Sikh Organization Rejects ‘Gaping Hole’ in Oregon Discrimination Bills
The End of an Era to Keep Religious Identity Out of Public Schools
“This legislation forces Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and others to choose between their faith and entering the teaching profession,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. “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.”
He said the legislation also raises the question of whether a Christian or Jewish teacher wearing a prominent cross or Star of David would face removal from his or her teaching position.
“Would this legislation prohibit a Mennonite teacher from wearing a bonnet?” asked Hooper. “Who will determine what is religious attire and what is a personal fashion choice.” He said a Muslim teacher who is a cancer survivor might be prohibited from wearing a scarf following hair loss from chemotherapy.
Hooper added that the Oregon legislation contradicts President Obama’s recent statement in support of the right to wear hijab.
In his June address to Muslims worldwide, President Obama stated: “[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion…That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”
CAIR has consistently defended the right of Americans of all faiths to wear religious attire in the workplace, in schools, in courtrooms, and as customers in public venues such as banks. This year, CAIR chapters in Oklahoma and Minnesota helped block proposed legislation that would have prohibited wearing hijab in driver’s license photographs.
SEE: Oklahoma Anti-Hijab Bill Dismissed
SEE ALSO: Credit Union Regrets Muslim Woman’s Treatment
The council’s Michigan office recently called for clarification of a new administrative rule adopted by Michigan’s Supreme Court that, if broadly interpreted, might allow judges to demand that witnesses remove religious head coverings during testimony in their courtrooms.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail: email@example.com; CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor, 202-384-8857, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org