Washington DC (Feb. 10, 2009) – The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, commends the Oregon House of Representatives for passing Oregon House Bill 3686 on February 9th.
If enacted the bill would allow public school teachers to wear religious dress, including the Sikh dastaar (turban), the Muslim hijab, and the Jewish yarmulke. The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, passing it with a 51-8 vote. The bill will now be considered by the Oregon State Senate.
In the summer of 2009, SALDEF initiated a campaign to overturn this discriminatory legislation and has since been working to publicize and repeal ORS 342.650. This bill is the first step in undoing ORS 342.650, an Oregon law that effectively forbids Sikhs, and all other individuals who wear religious dress in accordance with their faith, from working as public school teachers.
Over the past several months, SALDEF has been working closely with the Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt, along with a broad coalition of groups and individuals to engage in outreach to Oregon legislators, provide testimony at House hearings, and mobilize community support for the Lobby Day held earlier today at the State House in Salem.
“We commend the members of the Oregon House, and specifically Speaker Hunt for this vote and for sending the message that Oregon respects and embraces individuals of all faiths,” said SALDEF Managing Director Kavneet Singh. “By passing this bill the legislators have taken the first step in doing away with an archaic law that was initially enacted with the support of the Ku Klux Klan. We look forward to the Oregon State Senate taking up this issue and passing it with similar overwhelming support.”
SALDEF would like to thank Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt and his staff including Geoff Sugerman for their continued support of our campaign.
SALDEF also recognizes Saba Ahmed, Kevin Finney of the Oregon Ecumenical Ministries, Gregory Hamilton of the Northwest Religious Liberty Association, the Oregon Family Council, Willamette University Professor Steven Green, and all the other coalition partners who made the efforts possible, as well as SALDEF local advocates Sat Hanuman Singh Khalsa, Navneet Kaur and Ravitej Singh Khalsa for their efforts in mobilizing the local community.
Additionally, SALDEF thank its colleagues at both the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs for the efforts and partnership in this campaign.
“Yesterday’s vote is a great victory for all residents of Oregon and the Nation,” said Oregon resident and local leader Ravitej Singh Khalsa. “I was part of the original effort in the mid-80s to get this law repealed, and it was truly amazing to see such a broad coalition of groups working to the same end this time around.
“It is most satisfying to finally feel welcome in Oregon, and I would like to thanks SALDEF for the leadership and efforts in taking up this cause,” Khalsa added.
Founded in 1996, SALDEF is the oldest Sikh American civil rights and educational organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the civil rights of Sikh Americans through advocacy, education, and media relations. SALDEF’s mission is to create a fostering environment in the United States for future generations of Sikh Americans.