WASHINGTON (AP) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today expressed support for a push by Democratic lawmakers to update a 181-year-old rule banning head coverings on the House floor to allow for a constitutionally-guaranteed religious exemption.
The rule, first implemented in 1837, state that every member shall remain “uncovered” during the sessions of the House. Current rules of comportment prohibit members of the House from wearing a “hat.” The new rule would clarify that religious head coverings, including Muslim head scarves (hijab), are not included in this ban.
The rule change was proposed by former House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Rules Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MN). When she is sworn in next year, Omar will become the first member of Congress to wear hijab.
“We support the effort to update this anachronistic policy and to bring the House of Representatives into conformity with the Constitution and its existing protection of religious freedom,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Islamic head coverings, Sikh turbans, Jewish yarmulkes, and Mennonite bonnets are all expressions of religious belief and are therefore already protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'”
Awad said the rule change would be an acknowledgement of the increasing diversity in Congress, which reflects both the nation’s changing demographics and the political empowerment of marginalized communities.