Written by Don Byrd
Nebraska public school teachers can now wear habits, hijabs, and other religious clothing in their classrooms. Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 62 into law, a bill repealing a 98-year-old provision prohibiting teachers from wearing religious garb.
News Channel Nebraska reports that a substitute teacher’s experience with enforcement of the antiquated law spurred this effort:
The Governor said the new law rights a wrong from 1919 when the state passed the religious garb rule under pressure from the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan. That law continued in obscurity with many not knowing it existed, including Scheer, until Sister Madeline Miller was told she could not wear her nun’s habit and be a substitute teacher for Norfolk Public Schools last year. She told Scheer and he went to work. He had to convince some in the Unicameral that abolishing the law still allowed for a separation of church and state.
“We aren’t discriminating against any religion here, we are trying to make sure that those that have a religious background aren’t discriminated against,” Scheer said.
On that last point, of course school administrators should be wary of religious activities on campus that faculty or staff join with students. But barring teachers from wearing garb associated with their faith essentially precludes adherents of certain faiths from being able to serve as teachers in public schools. While protecting school children from religious coercion is an important objective, the separation of church and state does not require teachers to abandon their religious headwear at the schoolhouse door to achieve it.