A 181-year-old rule banning Congress members from wearing hats of any kind could be overturned in order to accommodate a newly elected Muslim lawmaker who wears a headscarf called a hijab.
Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who won election this month, is a co-author of the proposal. She became one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to the House of Representatives. Rashida Tlaib, who was elected to serve in Congress from the Detroit area, does not wear a head covering.
Born in Somalia, Omar came to the United States as a refugee.
“No one puts a scarf on my head but me,” she wrote over the weekend on her Twitter account. “It’s my choice — one protected by the first amendment. And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.”
The rule change would be part of a larger reform package. It has received the backing of Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the senior Democrat in the House of Representatives and its likely speaker, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the incoming rules chairman.
Though Omar has come under fire for saying since the election that she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel — after saying during her campaign that it was “counteractive” and prevents dialogue — some Jewish groups are backing her proposal. They include the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel, both Orthodox groups.
“The O.U. has long supported laws and policies that foster the accommodation of religious practices in the workplace,” Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, told Jewish Insider. “Religious practices such as wearing religious garb, whether a kippah or a hijab, should be accommodated in all workplaces, including Congress.”
Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at the haredi 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. That said, relaxing the rules on hats in general, where religious rights aren’t at issue, is not something we have any position on.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who has served since 2010, has a collection of sequined cowboy hats that she has argued, unsuccessfully, she should be allowed to wear while at work in Congress.