US Muslims blast state law barring religious dress

WASHINGTON - A leading US Muslim civil rights organization on Thursday slammed a draft state law that would bar teachers in public schools from wearing "religious dress" such as a headscarf.
"This legislation forces Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others to choose between their faith and entering the teaching profession," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), referring to a bill before the governor of the northwestern state of Oregon.

"Merely wearing a headscarf is not proselytizing; it's a statement of faith. Practicing one's faith is a right guaranteed by the constitution," said Hooper.
CAIR cites a clause of the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act as saying: "No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher."
The bill also says education officials and schools would not be breaking the law if they "prohibit a teacher from wearing religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher."
Hooper questioned whether the law would be applied to Christian crosses or the Jewish Star of David, or if it would affect a Muslim woman who did not normally wear a scarf but had to undergo chemotherapy and lost her hair.
"Would she be put through an inquisition to determine if she was making a religious statement or not?" he said.
Hooper also pointed out that the Oregon legislation directly contradicts a statement made by US President Barack Obama during a speech in Egypt in June.
"Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion," Obama said in the speech. "That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it."
The bill has been passed by the Oregon state legislature and the governor "has said he will sign it," said Hooper.

Friday, July 17th 2009

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