Does religious clothing have a place in the classroom?

Does religious clothing have a place in the classroom? »Play Video
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PORTLAND, Ore. - Should Oregon teachers be allowed to wear religious clothing in public school classrooms?

You may not realize it but it's actually against the law in this state for teachers to do so and it has been that way for almost a century.

A new law, the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, has reignited the debate. You see, the new law requires all Oregon employers to allow their workers to wear certain religious garb and take holy days off but teachers are still excluded.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the bill into law this week but members of the Sikh, Muslim and Jewish communities wanted it vetoed.  And the topic has certainly generated talk.

"It's not like someone working at McDonald's," said Jake Weigler with the Oregon Department of Education. "This is someone who is instructing children and imparting values to them. And so the idea that they would have religious symbols associated with them, the legislature was concerned about, you know, in a public school system it's really supposed to be separated from church and state."

"Unless the person is putting their religion out there and trying to force their religion onto another person, if they're just wearing the garb that is part of their everyday life, then I don't see a problem with it," said Portland resident Lew Reeve.

"I think the attire is enough to portray it, I'm sorry to say," said Tualatin resident Jeannine Moran.

Portland Attorney Hari Nam Singh Khalsa said people don't often understand the significance of what he wears, or even what religion he is in.

"Being a Sikh, one of my vows is that I, for instance, don't cut my hair, I wear my head covered in public during the day with a turban," he said.  "So it's not like an optional thing for us."

Mojghan Hasmat only removes her headscarf around family and women.  But as an aspiring teacher she has found that she must choose between her Muslim faith and her career.

"I would rather stay home than take off my scarf," she said.

Hasmat said she is proud to live in a country with so many freedoms but is disappointed that her state has a double standard.

Oregon is only one of two states that forbids teachers from wearing things like headscarves, turbans and yarmulkes, even when it is required by their faith.  Every other state, except for Pennsylvania, leaves that up to local school districts to decide.

The original law that was passed in Oergon nearly a century ago was meant to be anti-Catholic and keep nuns out of schools after all the Catholic schools were banned.

There will likely be another push to change the law next year.