A state law banning the wearing of any religious garb in the public classroom has been wiped off the books with a signature.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has signed into law a bill lifting the nearly 100-year old ban on public school teachers wearing religious clothing or jewelry.
Ricketts said the bill rights a nearly 100-year-old wrong.
“When Nebraska passed a law restricting religious freedom, back in 1919, the law was then designed to really be, frankly, anti-Catholic and was being pushed by the Ku Klux Klan to be able to prevent people of religious persuasion from working in our public schools,” Ricketts said during a signing ceremony in Norfolk. “But, of course, one of the things we want is we want to recognize religious freedom and not discriminate against people, because of their religious beliefs.”
Though the bill received overwhelming support in the Unicameral, it had to survive three separate filibusters waged by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, including one on final reading, a very rare event.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk, a former school board member, sponsored LB 62 and said few knew such restrictions were on the books.
“You could walk into probably any school facility in the state of Nebraska this afternoon and you will find some teacher that probably has a cross on a necklace. If I had noticed that as a school board member I was supposed to call the police. That’s what the (law) said,” Scheer said at the signing ceremony. “I will tell you, I have been involved in education a long time, a great portion of my life; I didn’t know the bill existed.”
But someone at Norfolk Public Schools did.
Scheer said the law was brought to his attention when a Benedictine Sister, who was fully licensed to teach in the state, applied for an advertised substitute position and was told she wouldn’t be able to wear her habit while teaching.
Most states had such laws on the books. Most have gotten rid of them.
Paul Hughes, WJAG, contributed to this article.