The nationwide debate over religious observances in schools and the workplace made its way to Oregon. During the 2009 legislative session, leaders in Salem passed the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act. The act requires employers to accommodate employees’ observance of religious holidays and allows them to wear religious garments as long as it does not pose a significant difficulty or expense to the businesses.
On the surface, the bill appears to be a step toward diversity. However, a clause in the bill specifically singles out public schools as workplaces where religious freedoms do not apply. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined forces with the Sikh community in Portland and argued against the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act. Their efforts failed.
When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2010, Oregon will join Pennsylvania as the only states in the country that forbid teachers from wearing religious attire on school grounds.
This bill is troubling for some Muslims residing in Oregon because they view their religious attire as a part of their identity, not an expendable piece of clothing or an accessory. The Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act seeks to assure public schools remain neutral. Yet, some argue that this can be done through other means such as establishing a particular code of conduct.
The Speaker of the Oregon House has said he plans to change the law.
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