Since 1923, a KKK-sponsored law prohibiting religious clothing worn by school teachers has been part of Oregon law. In the mid 1980s, a Sikh teacher was terminated and discredited because of this law for wearing a turban to her school. In 2009, the law was upheld after the Oregon legislature carved out an exclusion for public schools under the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
Last Wednesday, after almost 90 years of missed opportunities, Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt, a leader in his Baptist Church, gave a passionate speech in favor of repealing the law. He was followed by representatives from both sides of the aisle and multiple faiths advocating repeal. Conservatives said it was time. Liberals said it was long overdue. One representative told the story of hearing the testimony of a desperate status quo supporter talking about “witches” and the “church of nudity” pursuing teaching careers and taking over our kids’ minds. Only one representative against repeal stood and tried the same tired tactic used again and again – that the law needed further study, even after almost 90 years. Hunt said this was an old tactic, which had now lost any validity.
The final vote in favor of repeal was an overwhelming 51-8.
There were groups representing state government, business, and multiple faith and interfaith groups backing the repeal. Many traveled from far away to watch the votes cast last Wednesday, and the Muslim community has come out in a huge way. It became not only a religious issue, but a woman’s issue as well. Through the tireless work of Ms. Saba Ahmed, a Muslim attorney, the bill was passed. We have to give thanks to Saba for her hours, days and weeks of personally speaking to each and every representative. It was a heartfelt day full of the affirmation of consciousness.
At the end of the day after all the work, it was the House of Representatives themselves who defined what needed to happen and why. Personally, for the first time in many years, I felt welcome in the State of Oregon.
Now we need to work toward, hope and pray for the day that the Senate follows the lead of the House and overwhelmingly confirms citizens’ rights in Oregon.
Ravitej Singh Khalsa (Eugene, Oregon)
Ravitej Singh Khalsa is a leader in the Sikh community of Oregon and has tirelessly worked to repeal and create public awareness about the bigoted origins of Oregon’s ban on Sikh teachers for over 25 years. You can view his photographs of the historic Feb. 10th vote in the Oregon House of Representatives by clicking here.