Written by Don Byrd
If you followed the mid-term elections, you probably are already aware that the 116th Congress will become the most religiously diverse in American history. The first Muslim women ever elected to Congress will be sworn in along side the first Native American representatives. But some have noticed that the arcane rules of the U.S. House technically would bar Muslim women from wearing a religious head covering known as a hijab on the floor, as well as the wearing of a yarmulke by Jewish members.
As Religion News Service reports, leaders are working to get those 180-year-old rules changed.
Headwear of any kind has been banned from the House chamber since 1837. The rule, designed to outlaw the wearing of hats, was written at a time and by people who likely never imagined religious minorities rising up to help lead this nation. At Omar’s urging, Democratic leaders have proposed in their draft rules for the incoming Congress that religious headwear be permitted on the House floor.
To many Americans, it will seem like a no-brainer to update the headwear policy held by Congress and to uphold Omar’s constitutional right to practice her sincerely held religious beliefs. Rules like this were not likely intended to be malicious or exclusionary; it seems more likely that they were simply written without certain people in mind.
As an advocate for religious liberty, it has been remarkable and heartening to see the diversity of faiths in Congress expand. It would make perfect sense to mark this development with an official rule change that acknowledges the right of people of all faiths and no faith at all to represent Americans on Capitol Hill. The Constitution demands no religious test to hold public office, and that includes, of course, no requirement that elected officials choose between serving their country in Congress and following the dictates of religious attire required by their faith.