Pa. Senate advances bill to drop school religious garb ban

The Pennsylvania Capitol is shown in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

The Pennsylvania Capitol is shown in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Two decades after a teacher’s aide was suspended for wearing a cross necklace at school, Pennsylvania lawmakers are looking to remove a provision in state law that bars educators from wearing religious garb while in the classroom.

The Senate approved the legislation by a 49-0 vote on Wednesday. The measure now goes to the House.

The bill would uphold a 2003 Pennsylvania federal court decision in which an Indiana County teacher was reinstated and provided backpay after she had been suspended for refusing to remove her cross necklace.

Under the current language in the public school code in state law, an educator wearing religious garb must be suspended for one year and will be fired after multiple offenses. Administrators who don’t enforce the law could be fined and could lose their job.

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The cosponsors — Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks — said Pennsylvania is the last state to strike such language, and that it applies to expression of all faiths.

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