A state law dating back to the late 19th century that prohibits teachers from wearing anything on the job that indicates their religion is one step closer to being repealed.
The House Education Committee voted unanimously on Monday, Sept. 24, to pass a bill to repeal what is known as the Garb Law. The law was first passed at a time of hostility toward religious minorities including Roman Catholics as well as Anabaptists whose denominations called for Plain dress, including the Amish. Plain dress aims to display humility and preserve a religious group’s separateness from the rest of the world.
The current state law says “no teacher in any public school shall wear in said school or while engaged in the performance of his duty as such teacher any dress, mark, emblem or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect or denomination.”It was first adopted in 1895 and was recodified as part of the School
Code of 1949. The law calls for a one-year suspension from teaching for a first offense and a permanent disqualification from teaching for a second offense.
State Rep. Dave Hickernell, a West Donegal Township resident who chairs the committee, described federal court rulings on the law in an email message to the Advocate. A 1990 ruling in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the law. A 2003 ruling in the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that the law did not apply to an instructional assistant.
Hickernell said a 2002 state law, the Pennsylvania Relgious Freedom Act, made it unclear if the Garb Law was still enforceable.
News reports from 2014 show that a parent complained to the East Pennsboro School District in Cumberland County about a teacher wearing a necklace with a Star of David, a traditional symbol of Judaism. The school district would not order the teacher to stop wearing the necklace and the parent said that violated the Garb Law.
The bill must be passed by the full House of Representatives and the state Senate and be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf to become law.
It is unclear if that will happen during the current session of the Legislature. The House has five voting days scheduled in October and one in November.