Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, elected Nov. 6, 2018, to the U.S. House of Representatives, has co-authored a proposal that, among other things, will make it clear that the House Rules allow religious headwear to be worn inside the House chamber. Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Congresswoman-Elect Ilhan Omar
  Omar has several other firsts to her credit, including being the first Somali American elected to Congress and the first former refugee elected to Congress. She is also the first woman of color to represent Minnesota as a U.S. Representative. At 37, her accomplishments are noteworthy.   The House has a 181-year-old ban on headwear, and Omar wears a headscarf or hijab as part of her Muslim faith. The rule states that members must be “uncovered” to address the floor and cannot even enter the House “with his head covered.”   Omar, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rules Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) drafted a proposal, presented Nov. 15, 2018, to “Clarify in the rules that religious headwear is permitted to be worn in the House chamber.”   Some on the far right have argued that the headscarf and any similar garments should be included in the ban, and the ban upheld, thus disqualifying many from Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Amish, and other faith traditions from serving in Congress. Others on the far left argue that the Muslim head covering is a symbol of male oppression, and banning it would free women from the obligation to cover up.   In the United States, most Muslim women who wear a hijab or other covering do so at their own discretion. “No one puts a scarf on my head but me,” Omar tweeted Nov. 18. “It’s my choice—one protected by the first amendment. And this is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.”   “Whenever we face a choice as a society between restricting religious expression or respecting it, our values require us to show respect,” says James Standish, a lawyer who has worked in the area of religious freedom for many years. “Are there instances where women are coerced to wear veils? Yes. But a blanket ban on headgear isn’t the way to handle coercion; a ban on coercion is the way to deal with coercion.”   Religious freedom is an inalienable (God-given) right, not just a government-granted one. And He gives it to all people, not just Christians. Christian author Ellen White wrote, “America’s precious freedom of religious belief and practice is in danger of being destroyed by those who would force the conscience of the minority to conform to the wishes of the majority” (Darkness Before Dawn, 24). Freedom of conscience is a primary tenet of the Christian faith. In Romans 14, Paul even advocates for freedom to exercise one’s convictions, even when those convictions appear misguided or immature.   Christians are to love and serve everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, with humility and kindness. Moreover, working to protect religious freedoms for those of all faith traditions in the United States ultimately benefits Christians, both at home and abroad. Christians supporting religious liberty for people of other faiths, such as Omar, builds good will between religious groups and establishes precedents that will help protect Christians when they require similar accommodations, such as Sabbath observance and dietary restrictions.   “Civil rights laws generally deny both employers and businesses the right to exclude those who express their faith by means of religious head coverings,” says attorney Alan Reinach, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Pacific Southwest and executive director of the Church State Council. “Congress has an opportunity to lead by example that America is a nation where people of all faiths are welcome and included.”
 

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