Newly elected Democrats, including a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, say they plan to amend a Congressional ban on indoor hats to formally allow for religious head coverings, including hijabs and yarmulkes. But the proposed rule change essentially picks and chooses which head coverings “count.”
The ban can be traced back to 1837, when it was seen as improper to wear headwear inside any room. It was never intended to curtail religious freedom, and was never really even an issue… until it was. The rule now stands in the way of a more diverse House allowing members to wear head coverings that they believe are an essential part of their faith.
In recent years, the rule hasn’t been enforced to preclude members, staff or religious leaders from wearing head coverings on the floor, but the victory of Minnesota Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, a Muslim who wears a headscarf, has put a spotlight on its continued existence.
Democrats say they will add an exemption for religious headwear under their new package of rules changes for the next Congress, which begins in January, so that the protection of religious expression is explicit. The language will also cover someone wearing a head covering due to illness and loss of hair.
“Democrats know that our strength lies in our diversity, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement to NBC News. “After voters elected the most diverse Congress in history, clarifying the antiquated rule banning headwear will further show the remarkable progress we have made as a nation.”
The change itself is a welcome one, especially considering how representation of minority religions in the House can really only go up in years to come. Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish representatives shouldn’t have to fear working in a place where their faith is seen as an obstacle. It’s also a positive development that they’re adding exemptions for people who are ill.
But as with any exemption for religious head coverings, such as those for driver’s licenses in certain jurisdictions, the question will inevitably arise: Where is the line drawn? If Pastafarians got elected — it’s happened before — would the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster be allowed to wear colanders on their heads?
It’s clearly a hypothetical question, but an exception to the rule that only applies to certain people, by definition, leaves out others. Why not just go all the way and get rid of the ban altogether?
It’s not just about religion either. Some people just prefer to wear hats. Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida is known for her colorful hats and wanted to end the ban when she was first elected in 2010.
“It’s sexist,” Wilson said. “It dates back to when men wore hats and we know that men don’t wear hats indoors, but women wear hats indoors. Hats are what I wear. People get excited when they see the hats. Once you get accustomed to it, it’s just me. Some people wear wigs, or high heel shoes or big earrings or pins. This is just me.”
She ultimately gave up that fight — when Republican John Boehner was Speaker — in order to focus on her constituents. But the current rule change for Rep.-elect Omar still wouldn’t allow someone like Wilson to wear her hats on the House floor.
Again, the hat ban partial reversal is a welcome one. But it also creates additional problems — one of which involves a sitting member of the House. Democrats should just go all the way and reverse the archaic ban.
(Screenshot via YouTube)