National Sikh Organization Rejects 'Gaping Hole' in Oregon Discrimination Bill

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Yesterday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)--the oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States--urged Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski to veto a bill that effectively rubber-stamps a state law that forbids public school teachers from wearing any form of religious clothing.

On one hand, it says that an employer can't fire you because you wear a religious headcovering; on the other hand, it effectively says that the school board can fire you because you wear a kippah or a dastaar. This isn't workplace religious freedom; this is a farce, and it reminds all of us just how precarious religious freedom really is, even in 2009, and even in the United States.

Yesterday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)--the oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States--urged Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski to veto a bill that effectively rubber-stamps a state law that forbids public school teachers from wearing any form of religious clothing.

The Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (SB 786), which was passed by the Oregon legislature last May, contemplates greater religious freedom for employees but exempts public schools from its coverage. This is because Oregon law forbids individuals from wearing "any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher."

Even if the bill is signed into law, observant Sikh Americans would still be barred from working as teachers in the public schools of Oregon because of their religiously-mandated dastaars (turbans), and observant Jews and Muslims in the state would also be forced to choose between religious freedom and a teaching career.

"There is a gaping hole in the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act," said Rajdeep Singh Jolly, SALDEF's Director of Law and Policy. "On one hand, it says that an employer can't fire you because you wear a religious headcovering; on the other hand, it effectively says that the school board can fire you because you wear a kippah or a dastaar. This isn't workplace religious freedom; this is a farce, and it reminds all of us just how precarious religious freedom really is, even in 2009, and even in the United States. "

Contact:

Rajdeep Singh Jolly
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
202.393.2700 x131
http://www.saldef.org

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