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(Washington DC) January 6, 2010 - The Oregon state legislature is likely to take action in the next month to repeal ORS 342.650, an Oregon law that effectively forbids turbaned Sikhs from working as public school teachers. In the Summer of 2009, SALDEF initiated a campaign to overturn this discriminatory legislation and has been leading this effort to date. The Sikh Coalition and UNITED SIKHS are proud to join SALDEF in support of the campaign to repeal ORS 342.650.
Historical Background - From the KKK to Today
ORS 342.650 originated in the 1920s as an anti-Catholic measure and was supported by the Ku Klux Klan at a time of overt hostility toward racial and religious minorities. Other laws enacted by the Oregon legislature during this period included the Compulsory Education Act (a measure designed to close parochial schools) and the Alien Property Act of 1923 (a law that prohibited Japanese immigrants from purchasing or leasing land in Oregon). Although these two bigoted laws have since been repealed, ORS 342.650 is still enforced against religious minorities, and Oregon is one of only three states in the country that continue to impose such discriminatory restrictions on public school teachers. In 2009, a diverse coalition of interfaith groups spearheaded an effort to overturn the law, and the Oregon legislature has a historic opportunity to do so in February 2010.
Impact on Sikhs
ORS 342.650 resembles laws in France that forbid Sikhs from working as public school teachers. At a time when Sikhs are struggling to overcome the challenges of hate crimes, workplace discrimination, and school bullying, Sikhs are being segregated from serving in an important public service profession. It is a thin line between excluding Sikhs from teaching and excluding Sikhs from any government employment in the state of Oregon.