Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said it best: “(T)he floor of Congress is going to look like America. And you’re gonna have to just deal.”
Omar was responding to conservative Virginia pastor E.W. Jackson, who is upset that House Democrats plan to spearhead a change to the chamber’s rules in January to permit representatives to wear religious headwear, including hijabs, kippahs and turbans.
Jackson’s not a fan: “The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic,” he said last week on his radio show, “The Awakening.” That line prompted Omar’s tweet, which has been liked more than 300,000 times on Twitter.
Well sir, the floor of Congress is going to look like America...— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) December 7, 2018
And you’re gonna have to just deal 😂 https://t.co/mHQzj34ZTn
Omar, a Somali refugee who wears a hijab and will join Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as the first Muslim women elected to Congress, co-sponsored the rule change with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Rules Committee’s top Democrat, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
They plan to amend a rarely enforced House rule prohibiting hats and head coverings that’s been on the books since 1837, when a member of the House described the “really harmless but apparently indecorous practice” of indoor hat-wearing. The amendment would permit head coverings in response to illness and hair loss in addition to religious purposes.
It’s an appropriate religious accommodation that allows representatives to follow their own religious beliefs while not hurting anyone else or forcing anyone to favor one religion over another.
The proposal was met with broad support, including from Jewish groups. Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at the organization Orthodox Agudath Israel, told Jewish Insider: “Just as we would want a Jewish congressman to be able to wear a yarmulke in chamber, we would want a Muslim or Sikh representative to be able to hew to his or her religious convictions.”
But Jackson, a failed candidate for U.S. Senate and Virginia lieutenant governor, isn’t on board. “We are a Judeo-Christian country,” he told his radio listeners. “We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity, and that’s that. And anybody that doesn’t like that, go live somewhere else. It’s very simple. Just go live somewhere else. Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on sharia law.”
I’m almost impressed by how much Jackson gets wrong in that short paragraph. First, the United States isn’t a Christian nation; our Constitution is explicitly secular and guarantees religious freedom for all, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof. Second, he graciously includes the Jewish faith in his vision of America, but ignores that many Jews support and stand to benefit from Omar’s proposal. Third, he resorts to fear-mongering and inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric when he wrongly accuses of Omar of trying to change America into an “Islamic republic” based on “sharia law.”
Omar is no stranger to Islamophobia, but she told Roll Call that she’s optimistic about Americans living up to the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom for all. “In a time where there is a lot of religious bigotry, it’s almost perfect to have this counterbalance. My sister Rashida [Tlaib] and I are from the heartland of America. To be elected to Congress is a real rejection of that message.”
Omar tweeted another response last month about the proposal which may offer some hopeful foreshadowing: “No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice – one protected by the first amendment. And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.” I’ve seen no reporting on what other bans Omar was referencing, but if ending President Donald Trump’s cruel Muslim ban is on her to-do list, I’m on board.
No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice—one protected by the first amendment.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 17, 2018
And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift. https://t.co/7U3ZLTaWur
(Top photo: Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar. Credit: Screenshot from The Washington Post/MSNBC)