Pennsylvania is one of only two states that still ban teachers from wearing any type of religious garb or symbol. A bipartisan effort is underway to lift that ban. Representative Eugene DePasquale, a York Democrat, says it’s about ending religious discrimination in the public. He says statutes banning teachers from wearing any religious garb or symbols were implemented in a time of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments at the turn of the last century.
Representative DePasquale says Pennsylvania and Nebraska are the only states that have not repealed their religious garb statutes. He says it is not about having teachers proselytize in the classroom; it’s simply about allowing them to wear an emblem of faith as they teach.
House bill 1581 would amend Section 1112 of the Public School Code to remove the prohibition on teachers wearing any religious garb, mark, emblem or insignia while in the performance of their duties.
Representative Will Tallman, an Adams County Republican, is cosponsor of the bill. He says it’s a freedom of expression issue and will not be disruptive to the educational process.
Under the current law, a teacher could be punished for wearing any type of religious garb or symbol in the classroom, even if their faith required it. A public school director can be held criminally liable for not enforcing the law.
Representative DePasquale says the bill would not block teacher dress codes.
Sandra Strauss, director of Public Advocacy at Pennsylvania Council of Churches, says it’s far past time to repeal this ban. She says the council has always supported religious expression in terms of dress.
The lawmakers discussed the bill Tuesday at a capitol news conference.