The ACLU, the KKK and the culture of fear

February 17, 2010 by Asma T. Uddin Source: newsweek.washingtonpost.com

You wouldn't think the ACLU would defend a law created by the KKK. But you would be wrong... at least in Oregon.

In the next few weeks, the Oregon legislature will be voting on whether to repeal a 1923 law that makes it illegal for anyone wearing distinctively religious clothing to serve as a public school teacher. The law, ORS § 342.650, was enacted by Ku Klux Klan (KKK) sympathizers as one of several laws aimed at suppressing Catholics and other ethnic and religious minorities. Although other laws enacted during this time period have long since been repealed, ORS § 342.650 has yet to face the same fate and is one of the last KKK-inspired laws to remain on the books in the United States.

In Oregon's diverse modern landscape, ORS § 342.650 keeps not only Catholic priests and nuns from serving as public school teachers, but also observant Muslims, Sikhs, and Orthodox Jews. Many Oregonians are understandably shocked that this law is still on the books. Like forced sterilization and laws that kept Japanese immigrants from owning property, ORS § 342.650 was passed in a culture of fear and is rightly rejected today.

Although the House of Oregon legislature passed the bill spearheaded by House Speaker David Hunt to repeal this noxious law, it still must be passed by the Senate as well in order to repeal ORS § 342.650.

The bill must clear through the Senate Rules Committee by this Friday, Feb 19th,  before it can be given full consideration by the Senate.  In the near term, it is therefore imperative for as many community members as possible write immediately to members of the Rules Committee. The Sikh Coalition has made this easy to do.  Just click here.

The legislature will take into account testimony delivered recently by various government officials, lawyers, professors, and civil rights organizations, including among others the Oregon ACLU. The ACLU, which prides itself on protecting the little guy, is today using KKK-esque tactics to defeat the repeal of a law promoted by the KKK in 1923.

Instead of using reason, the ACLU is using fear. In the early 1920s, the KKK pushed its agenda by scaring people with threats of cultural "pollution" by Japanese and Catholics. The ACLU today is following a similar path; apparently, Sikhs and Muslims are not scary enough, as the ACLU has resorted to scaring people with Wiccans, Rajneeshees, Scientologists, and members of the Church of Body Modification.

Charles Hinkle, former president of ACLU Oregon and an ACLU cooperating attorney for over 38 years, testified against the repeal by appealing to the legislature's fears of witches and teachers with facial jewelry. He warned of the mass departure of Christian students should the legislature allow Wiccans in "witch clothes" to teach in Oregon's public schools. Never mind that such religious garb statutes don't exist in 47 states and yet the witches have not taken over our public schools. Use of such extreme examples denotes persuasion through fear rather than reasoned argument.

The ACLU should be embarrassed. Its manipulation of fear hearkens back to a time when minorities were considered a threat. Today, it is laws like ORS § 342.650 that are foreign and threatening to our values. Oregonians, proud of their state's progressive reputation, should write and call their representatives to ensure that the last vestiges of KKK influence--and the broader culture of fear that it represents--are wiped away for good.

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