Oregon legislature recently repealed a law, dating back to the 1920’s, which banned public school teachers from wearing religious clothing while in the classroom. This is cause for celebration as it puts personal freedoms first in place of the silly notion that such garb was a subtle infiltration over students’ own religious beliefs.
The law barred religious Jews from wearing yarmulkes, Sikhs from wearing turbans, and religious Muslim women from wearing headscarves and burqas. According to The Oregonian newspaper, the ban was originally designated to prevent priests and nuns from wearing their attire and habits in the classroom. (It’s also interesting to note that this same bill also barred Japanese-Americans from owning property in Oregon, just to put it in perspective).
Oregon has removed itself from the glaring minority of states that ban religious dress in the public school arena. Nebraska and Pennsylvania are the only two remaining states with this law.
What I do find surprising, though, is that the Oregon ACLU actually supports the ban. Their position is that allowing religious clothing might strongly influence children and might “endanger the religious neutrality” of public schools.
I appreciate the efforts by the state and local governments, interest groups and individuals to keep the separation of church and state. I can understand the fine line that sometimes exists within these efforts.
Where clothing choice is concerned, however, it seems that society underestimates children’s ability to look past appearances. It is my experience that more often than not, children see their teachers for what they teach them, not how they look.
I’ve mentioned in a previous commentary that it does take a village to raise children. It can’t be argued, though, that parents have the strongest influence over adolescents.
If a child announces at the dinner table of their Protestant family that they are interested in becoming Jewish because their favorite teacher wears a yarmulke, I can only assume that a conversation about different religions and freedom of choice would ensue.
If a child is being raised to feel that a single ideology reigns supreme and that people are not entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, then a bigger problem exists over how a schoolteacher chooses to dress.
A quality teacher knows their mission in the classroom is to instruct and foster growth and that teaching their personal gospel in a public forum is not appropriate. A good teacher establishes solid boundaries between their lesson plans and their young, impressionable students.
Religious affiliation is not like a contagious virus, one sneeze and you’re doomed with infection. It is a choice, usually an educated one.
A wardrobe choice can make an initial statement to society, but with regard to religious dress, it can be defined as one of commitment and not advertisement for conversion to the wearer’s beliefs.
All religious sectors are present in society. Children will cross paths with people from completely different lifestyles as they make their way in life. A public ban of personal differences fosters confusion, hate and disparagement of “the other.”
Intolerance is based on fear, which stems from a lack of information. The answer to this problem, like so many fears, is education.
While I previously had no judgment over those who dressed based on personal and religious preferences, I did get clarity on the subject. I took an international communications course taught by CSUN professor William Kelly a couple of years ago and expanded my understanding of a burqas, headscarves and other dress items associated with religion.
Not only did I learn about the different social systems that use specific dress within their belief system, but in some circles, it is a choice to wear these items and not a mandate. For example, many women choose to wear a burqa for religious or personal reasons.
Simply put, this type of clothing is for the person who puts it on in the morning, not for you or me.
The Oregon bill is now in the hands of Gov. Ted Kulongoski for his signature, but there is every reason to believe that he will give his approval. Bravo, Oregon. It’s about time. And not about appearance.