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Archive for the ‘religious freedom’ tag

Muslim Women Set Precedent for Religious Freedom

Via Tikkun Daily:
Religious accommodation in the workplace seems to be gaining strength in recent times. Last month, corporate America received a huge setback as retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch was found by a federal judge to have discriminated against a Muslim clerk who wore a hijab to work and was subsequently fired. While that story took the nation, especially American Muslim circles by storm, I refrained from writing about it for the simple reason that there didn’t seem much else to say. A court of law of the United States had already given a powerful message that American Muslims, with our infinite rituals and practices, were part of the fabric of American life and deserved equal treatment under the law. What more could anyone add? Yet here I am less than a month later, writing about this landmark case, not to state the obvious but because it seems that this case may have set some sort of precedent for religious accommodation.

First and foremost, the Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit has set a precedent simply based on who filed it and why. As numerous reports explained earlier this month, it was filed by a Muslim woman who was fired for wearing her hijab to work because it went against the company’s “look policy”. For women of all faiths, colors, sizes and state of physical attractiveness, such a disregard for look policies in general is a huge step in a number of ways, which I won’t go into here. For Muslim women however, the case is a major achievement. While discrimination based on the hijab (or veil or niqab) is quite commonplace, it hasn’t been documented until recently. Studies in the United States now show that the hijab has a negative impact on all aspects of the hiring process (Not Welcome Here: Discrimination towards Women who Wear Muslim Headscarf, Human Relations, May 2013). Similar studies in the United Kingdom also show women facing difficulties finding and keeping jobs while wearing the hijab (Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment, All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community UK).

In the struggle for workplace-related religious freedom, Muslim women have, perhaps unwittingly, blazed a new trail. While on the one hand the hijab makes them a target for unfair practices, it also becomes a beacon for the legal system to rally under. For most judges and juries, the fact that a woman would be fired due to her dress is such an obviously unfair concept that it begs retribution. And although the Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit is arguably the most popular, it certainly isn’t the only one Muslim women have fought in recent times. Disney for example has been on the receiving end of at least two similar cases, with judgment pending or settled. And for the few that we read about in the papers, there are probably hundreds that never get reported.

Therefore, more than the issue of being Muslim and female in America today, this case and many others like it highlight the challenges of being a religious minority in the American workplace. Although religious accommodation in the workplace is not a new concept (in fact it’s been around since the Civil Rights era), it puts the burden on the employee to report the incident, something he or she may not feel safe doing. The fact is that employers of all types have probably been stomping on the rights of their employees to practice religious beliefs since the first person ever hired, from African slaves being denied the freedom to practice their own religious traditions a few hundred years ago to fringe Christian groups today not receiving equal treatment for Sabbath and holidays.

This lawsuit and its subsequent judgment offers hope to all those who have ever faced ridicule, harassment and even discrimination by their employers and co-workers – a fact that became apparent to me in the month of September as I read about several similar cases being filed and/or settled. For instance, a few days ago a car-dealership in California settled a $158,000 lawsuit against a Nigerian Seventh-Day Adventist employee who was refused leave on Friday nights and Saturdays for observance of the Sabbath. Similarly this month the city of Birmingham, Alabama is paying $80,000 to a Messianic Jewish woman for scheduling her for work on the Jewish Sabbath. Also this month, the EEOC has also filed a lawsuit against the owner of a KFC restaurant who fired a Pentecostal woman for wearing pants instead of the uniform dress to work.

These people and others like them prove that its acceptable and often even rewarding to stand up to unfair practices at your workplace, that you don’t have to be Muslim to get the justice you deserve, and that the future looks bright for equality and fairness in employment. Muslim women may have set a precedent in visibility but they are certainly not the only ones to benefit from a better work environment and greater accountability by employers.

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.

Quick Take On State’s Religious Engagement Office

CPWR Trustees consider church-state matters serious, especially as these policies can either subsume or enhance interfaith advancement in the United States and by extension, the world. On whether or not the new move by the state department upholds interfaith, CPWR Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees Rob Sellers opines,

The establishment of a new U.S. State Department “Office of Religious Engagement” and appointment of Shaun Casey, Methodist seminary ethics professor, as director is provoking a lot of mixed reactions. My own feelings are equally conflicting. Certainly, it’s crucial for those responsible for our country’s foreign policy to understand the role religion often plays in shaping the political and cultural ethos of nations around the world. Thus, a government entity whose aim is to enhance our diplomacy in a religiously plural world is a good thing. On the other hand, questions about which religions or religious followers will be “engaged,” as well as about how this new office will follow 1st Amendment provisos, are important ones. Accordingly, this well-intentioned effort guided by a Christian may inadvertently create ill will and be the wrong message for the United States—a nation that claims to practice religious freedom—to send abroad. In this case, the new organization is a bad thing. Whether this government office is a good or bad idea will only be proven in the days and years to come.

Dr. Robert P. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. In the graduate seminary program, his classes emphasize cross-cultural living, the Global Church, Two-Thirds World and liberation theologies, world religions, and interreligious dialogue. He’s taught in Canada and Mexico, Great Britain, Eastern and Western Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Along with Muslim and Baptist partners, Rob plans periodic national conferences. He also is active nationally as a member of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches and internationally through the Baptist-Muslim Relations Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.

Global Trends Improving On Religious Freedom (DATA)

Religious freedom initiatives are booming in recent global surveys.

Leveling the playing field for social cohesion, these advances propel Interfaith to a global tidal wave now crossing the borders of more than half of the world’s nations. If the following data is promising, it may reach almost three quarters of the world’s nations if trends in religious freedom continue. Unexpected improvements are stacking up fast toward more liberating political movements, and the station of women is appraising with higher worth in more areas as well. 

While the European Union cements its democratic view of religious life and liberty,

  • For even more information, the United States Department of State recently released a comprehensive, year-long 2012 report on International Religious FreedomThe online data can be customized toward research results filtered into specific nations, regions, and categories. Violations aren’t the only tracked data, and there is good news to be discovered in 15  nations improving their effort to advance religious freedom. Political, social, and anecdotal evidence is provided concerning attitudes and unprecedented legal amendments. 

Pope Urges Interfaith Dialogue in Mideast, Defends Religious Freedom

Pope Benedict XVI signs his apostolic exhortation on the church’s concerns in the Middle East during his visit to St. Paul’s Basilica in Harissa, Lebanon, Sept. 14. The document summarizing the conclusion of the 2010 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was presented by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Francis X. Rocca
from Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI signed a major document calling on Catholics in the Middle East to engage in dialogue with Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim neighbors, but also to affirm and defend their right to live freely in the region where Christianity was born.

In a ceremony at the Melkite Catholic Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa Sept. 14, Pope Benedict signed the 90-page document of his reflections on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to Christians in the Middle East. He was to formally present the document Sept. 16 at an outdoor Mass in Beirut.

A section dedicated to interreligious dialogue encouraged Christians to “esteem” the region’s dominant religion, Islam, lamenting that “both sides have used doctrinal differences as a pretext for justifying, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance, discrimination, marginalization and even of persecution.”

Yet in a reflection of the precarious position of Christians in most of the region today, where they frequently experience negative legal and social discrimination, the pope called for Arab societies to “move beyond tolerance to religious freedom.”

Click here to read the full article

Sports Hijabs Help Muslim Women to Olympic Success

Photography credit to Ali Jarekji/Reuters.  The Guardian.

The Iranian women’s national football team wearing sport hijabs.

by Homa Khaleeli
from The Guardian

Amid the furore over the state of undress of one of the UK’s most successful female cyclists, the increasing aceptance of sportswear that allows Muslim women to compete has garnered little attention.

Earlier this month Fifa finally overturned its ban, brought in in 2007, on women playing football with their heads covered. The decision came too late for the Iranian football team. It had already prevented them from playing in their 2012 Olympic qualifying match last year and disappointed their female fans in the football-mad Islamic Republic, where women are not allowed to watch men’s matches and headscarves are mandatory for women. But the overturning of the ban was cheered by footballers around the world, some of whom, such as Australian Assmaah Helal, wear the hijab through choice.

London 2012 is the first Olympics where women will compete in all 26 sports on offer (although still in 30 fewer events in total), and Fifa is just one of several international bodies to relax clothing rules and so allow more Muslim women to compete in the Games. It’s impossible to know how many women will be competing with their head covered this year, but they include judo player Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim and Saudi Arabian runner Sarah Attar, as well as footballers.

Click here to read full article

July 30th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Tennessee Mosque Wins Petition To Open

Photo Credit Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

The mosque being built in Murfreesboro, Tennesse in June.

by The Associated Press
from National Public Radio

A federal judge ordered a Tennessee county on Wednesday to move ahead with opening a Muslim congregation’s newly built mosque after a two-year fight from opponents.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro sued Rutherford County earlier in the day and asked District Judge Todd Campbell for an emergency order to let worshippers into the building before the holy month of Ramadan starts at sundown Thursday.

Federal prosecutors then stepped in with a similar lawsuit.

The future of the mosque had been in question since May, when a local judge overturned the county’s approval of the mosque construction. This month he ordered the county not to issue an occupancy permit for the 12,000-square-foot building.

Campbell ordered the county to move ahead on approving the mosque for use, although it wasn’t immediately clear if that could happen by Thursday. Final inspection of the building is required.

Click here to read full article

July 22nd, 2012 at 10:55 am