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District: Philadelphia Teachers Can Be Fired for Wearing Religious Garb

February 5, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Principals of the city’s public schools have been told they can fire teachers who come to work wearing Christian crosses, Muslim head scarves, Jewish yarmulkes or other religious garb.

A federal appeals court last year upheld the Philadelphia School District’s decision to prohibit a Muslim teacher from wearing a head scarf to school.

The district said its aim was to preserve ″an atmosphere of religious neutrality,″ and on Jan. 9 sent a memo telling principals they could take action against teachers who wear religious garb.

This was defined as ″any garment, headwear or accessory which is identifiable as religious in nature.″

Some teachers were angered by the policy, which they say violates their First Amendment rights.

Virginia Stewart, a sixth-grade teacher at Strawberry Mansion Elementary who wears a cross, said she does not promote her religion or try to persuade students to become Christians.

″Religions are part of our culture, and I can’t believe there’s anything wrong with children knowing that religious people exist and that a few of them might even be teachers,″ she said.

Deputy Superintendent Albert Glassman said principals were told to warn a teacher before taking disciplinary action. Under the law, teachers could be suspended without pay for up to one year after one violation and fired after a second violation.

Principals are handling the district’s memo in various ways. Some are ignoring it and others are enforcing it to the letter.