State Senate Approves Bill That Protects First Amendment Rights For Teachers

State Senate chambers

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a measure on Wednesday to eliminate a section of the state’s Education Code that brings the Commonwealth in line with the remaining 49 states in the Union.

Senate Bill 84 repealed that section from a 1949 Act that prohibits a teacher from wearing any dress, mark, emblem, or insignia indicative of his or her faith or denomination.

“This long overdue legislation needs to reach the governor’s desk to make Pennsylvania the 50th state to eradicate this archaic law once and for all,” said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) in a statement. “With its broad, bipartisan support from legislators and a diverse coalition of stakeholders, this bill will uphold William Penn’s founding principles that our Commonwealth stands for religious freedom and tolerance.”

The question of First Amendment rights was also called into question.

“It’s a First Amendment right to express your religious beliefs,” said Sen Judy Schwank (D-Berks). “Everyone, and most certainly our educators, should be free to exercise that right in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is not an endorsement of any one religion; it allows people of all faiths to express themselves.”

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Ku Klux Klan supported similar laws across the nation due to 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. Today, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with this law in place. Nebraska was the most recent state to repeal its law in 2017.

The Senate adjourned until February 27.

This measure now advances to House of Representatives for its consideration.


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