But lawmakers in the Quaker State are determined not to trail far behind and plan to introduce legislation next week that will allow public school teachers to wear religious garb in the classroom.
“In its current form, this law affects public school teachers of all faiths – and more so, it prevents those who wear religious garb as an expression of his or her faith from becoming teachers in public schools,” said state representative Eugene DePasquale (D-York) in a statement.
He and Will Tallman (R-Adams) will be working together to repeal the “garb statutes” of the Public School Code presently in place, where Pennsylvania schoolteachers are prohibited from wearing any garb, mark, emblem or insignia that would indicate being a member of or adherent to any religious order while teaching.
“Repealing this law is not about providing a pulpit from which a teacher could proselytize his or her faith but, instead, is about providing for religious neutrality so that every teacher, regardless of religious faith, may freely exercise his or her religion in the most ordinary way.”
Supporters of the bill assured that the repeal would still prevent teachers from wearing clothing that made an obvious religious statement.
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What was originally intended to limit Catholic influence within the classroom, “keeping priest collars and nun habits out,” has become, legislators believe, a stark opponent of the First Amendment – the right to freedom of religion.
“It’s one thing to say during algebra class that I think you should all be Christian, but we’re not talking about this,” Depasquale relayed in the Daily Local News. “If you’re Jewish and wear the Jewish Star to class, that’s just a sign of your faith. Many of us believe it’s a violation of our First Amendment rights.”
Bringing into question everything from cross necklaces to head scarves and long, loose dresses, the 1949 law, Tallman believes, is “one of those archaic pieces of the code that needs to be changed,” according to The Evening Sun.
“I think it’s time to get rid of it.”
With steep penalties given to violators of the ban, including suspension from teaching, fines, and permanent disqualification, Tallman sees an even greater need to repeal the potentially dangerous law, which is not followed by every district in Pennsylvania.
For example, in predominantly Roman Catholic districts, the schools were apt to disregard the laws.
Hoping to repeal the law and protect teachers’ rights, Tallman and DePasquale will reportedly meet with faith-based groups this week, following a press conference announcing their bill.
According to the DLN, though local clergy are generally in support of the proposal, some believe it may bring more problems.
“With something like this, you’re always wondering if you’re opening a Pandora’s box. Suppose someone takes the opposite tact and wears something offensive? After all, if someone comes in with a great big crucifix around their neck, it could be offensive,” shared Father Victor F. Sharrett.
Regardless of the proposed consequences, the local legislators plan to fight through and are certain that if the proposed bill reaches the education committee, it would no doubt reach the governor’s desk as well.