Bipartisan bill protecting First Amendment rights approved by House of Representatives

HARRISBURG –The House of Representatives passed key legislation sponsored by Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Judy Schwank (D-Berks) that would eliminate a section from the state’s Education Code that prohibits teachers from wearing any dress, mark, emblem, or insignia indicative of their faith or denomination.

The passage of Senate Bill 84 will make Pennsylvania the 50th and final state to eradicate an archaic law that violated the First Amendment in classrooms. Without the change, a teacher who violated this ban is subject to removal from teaching for a year or permanently disqualified from teaching after multiple offenses.

“William Penn built our commonwealth on religious freedom and tolerance. It is about time Pennsylvania crossed this archaic law out of its books,” Phillips-Hill said. “I look forward to the governor’s signature on this bill to ensure our Commonwealth upholds Penn’s founding principle that protects people of all faiths by upholding our First Amendment rights in the classroom.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Ku Klux Klan supported laws to eliminate religious insignias in the classroom due to the anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. Pennsylvania’s original 1895 law served as the model for three dozen states that pursued similar anti-First Amendment laws. Most recently, Nebraska repealed its law back in 2017. This made Pennsylvania the only state in the nation with such a law still on the books.

“Pennsylvania holds religious freedom as a core value, and any legislation that restricts an individual’s right to express their faith is incompatible with our commonwealth’s founding principles,” Schwank said. “With the House’s approval of Senate Bill 84, I’m proud to say we’ve rectified a longstanding error in Pennsylvania law, now permitting teachers to wear religious garb in the classroom. This move brings Pennsylvania in line with the rest of the nation, ending our status as the only state still upholding this kind of prohibition.”

The legislation heads to the governor for his signature.

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