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Crystal Greene, 503-947-5650

December 8, 2010

Avakian and Castillo Announce Model Religious Clothing Policy

Labor Commissioner and State Schools Superintendent applaud victory for workplace religious freedom

PORTLAND- State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo today announced the creation of a model policy PDF for school districts to utilize in applying Oregon’s new law on religious clothing to their schools. Avakian and Castillo helped drive the effort to repeal the statewide prohibition on teacher religious dress, originally enacted when an out-spoken supporter of the Ku Klux Klan was Speaker of the Oregon House in 1923. The policy is a product of the work group of interested parties convened by Avakian and Castillo, who first called for the repeal in a joint letter to the legislature in November 2009.

“Correcting this law is a clear victory for the constitutional rights of individuals,” said Avakian, chief of Oregon’s Civil Rights Division at the Bureau of Labor and Industries and a civil rights attorney by trade. “The prohibition on religious dress was originally enacted to marginalize specific Oregonians, has continued to do so for too long, and will not be missed.”

“This model policy provides our schools with guidance on how to allow teachers and other school staff the freedom to express their religious beliefs through dress while maintaining the religious neutrality of our learning environments,” said Castillo, head of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). “Repeal of this statute clearly shows our state – and our students – that we will not tolerate discrimination based on religion or background.”

The repeal of the statute was enacted during February’s legislative session, extending workplace religious freedom to Oregon’s teachers, who have been precluded from wearing any religious clothing or jewelry at work for almost 90 years. The newly crafted model policy represents “best practices” for school districts in determining whether particular items of dress may disrupt the learning environment or create the impression that a school is endorsing a particular religious affiliation.

“I appreciate the legislature’s thoughtful approach to this sensitive issue, and their endorsement of the repeal,” said Avakian. “Oregon legislators said emphatically that religious discrimination must not be allowed by law, and that all of the interested parties should come together to ensure both religious neutrality in schools and workplace religious freedom for Oregon teachers. Those parties have all supported the development of this clear, common-sense policy that our school districts can use immediately.”

The model district policy on religious clothing is being disseminated to all Oregon school districts by ODE and its partners, as well as being publicly available on the ODE website here PDF.

Susan Castillo, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Susanne Smith, Communications Director, Telephone (503) 947-5637

Oregon Department of Education News Releases contain information that was originally released to the press as an official release.  Refer to each News Release for the details.

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