January 2019 Church & State - January 2019

Rule Change May Allow Muslim Congresswoman’s Headscarf

  Rob Boston

Democrats who now control the U.S. House of Representatives plan to alter the chamber’s ban on hats so that a newly elected Muslim woman can wear a headscarf.

Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, won election to the chamber in November. Omar, originally a refugee from Somalia, wears a hijab and wants to keep it on during her time on the floor of the House. However, hats are banned under House rules.

Democratic leaders said they will lift the ban on religious headgear as part of a package of rule changes for the new Congress. They will also allow members to wear head coverings in the case of loss of hair due to illness.

“This change will finally codify that no restriction may be placed on a member’s ability to do the job they were elected to do simply because of their faith,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the House Rules Committee chair, who is working on the amendment with Omar and (former and probable Speaker-to-be) Nancy Pelosi. “The American people just elected the most diverse Congress in history and our rules should embody that.”

The House’s ban on hats dates to 1837. It’s unclear why it was put in place, but in recent years, it has not been strictly enforced in cases of members and their staff wearing religious head coverings.

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