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Lawmaker wants repeal of teacher-garb ban

PORTLAND — An Oregon legislative leader says he will introduce a bill to repeal a state law from 1923 that bans teachers from wearing religious garb.

House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, said he will push to "allow teachers to have the same religious free exercise rights as every other Oregonian" when legislators meet in February.

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, who recently sent letters to every lawmaker asking them to drop the ban, also support such a proposal.

The Legislature passed a law this year allowing all workers except teachers to wear religious dress at work in most instances. Its passage led to questions about why the law remains on the books, given that Oregon is one of only three states with such a ban.

The law on teacher dress was passed when an open supporter of the Ku Klux Klan presided as speaker of the Oregon House.

The law, which was aimed at keeping Catholics out of public schools, has not been tested in court since the Eugene School District won a 1986 Oregon Supreme Court case that upheld its firing of a Sikh teacher for wearing a turban.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which has long supported the ban, said the Legislature should not end it without enacting additional protections for Oregon students.

"We are urging the Legislature not to rush," said David Fidanque, executive director of the state ACLU. "Just repealing the statute could cause real problems in maintaining the religious neutrality of schools in Oregon."

The Oregon Education Association has not taken a position on the issue, communications director Becca Uherbelau told The Oregonian newspaper for a story published Tuesday. "Generally speaking, we support the religious freedom of our members."