New Jersey Employer Orders Woman to Remove Hijab

Last month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations New Jersey (CAIR-NJ) filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a woman whose employer ordered her to remove her hijab, causing her to lose her job.  

According to reports, the complaint alleges that Ms. Naima Mnasri “ was ordered to remove her hijab at her second day of work” when she was waiting to start her shift at a factory that manufactures plastic bottles. Supervisors told her that she needed to remove her head scarf for “safety reasons” and that “no religious symbols were permitted at the factory.” When asked by reporters if she felt her hijab was a potential “safety hazard,” Ms. Mnasri said “absolutely not.” Removing the hijab would violate Ms. Mnasri’s religious beliefs, so she had to leave her job.

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Filing a complaint with the EEOC on her behalf, CAIR-NY is a civil rights organization that frequently advocates for Islamic civil liberties in the U.S. Their complaint alleges that the supervisor’s order violated state and constitutional law. It states that the ban of religious symbols “directly violates the U.S. Constitution and the very foundations the country was built upon.”

Ms. Mnasri recounted the incident for reporters:

“It’s upsetting.  I was upset.  I know I live in this country.  The constitution protects my rights.  I even told him that I have rights in this country and I’m going to pursue my rights … He said, ‘ma’am either you take that off, meaning the hijab, or you go home.’ I told him it’s part of my religion. I cannot take it off.”

Professor Ruthann Robson has previously discussed this kind of “Hijab Hysteria” last year, saying that an employer need not claim safety reasons in order to bar hijabs from the workplace. Instead, as the Tenth Circuit suggested in 2013, the burden is on the woman to explicitly inform her employer that she wears the hijab for religious reasons and request accommodation.

But Professor Robson suggests that rather than focus on the reasons why a woman chooses to wear a hijab, religious or secular, “we should be more worried about the beliefs and biases of those who seek to control women’s attire, whether they are focused on headscarves or something else.”

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Public Lewdness Bill Returns to New York Legislature

Fire-Island-Nude-BeachAssemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) has reintroduced a bill that would increase penalties for “public lewdness” in New York State. The bill provides for felony conviction and addition to the sex offender registry for such acts as exposing oneself where a child under 14 is “likely to be present.” The same bill passed the State Senate last year, but failed in the Assembly. The text of the bill is here.

We discussed the bill and some of its potential consequences here.

Spokane Might Hold Vote on Public Nudity Ban

Citizens of Spokane, Washington, are gathering signatures for a proposed anti-nudity initiative. The initiative would create a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, for exposure of “at least half of a female breast, any part of of a female areola or nipple, or any part of male or female genitals or anus at any place the public has a right to be or see.” The Spokane City Council rejected similar rules in October, leading supporters to seek voter approval through the initiative process.

SweetSpotCafeThe nudity ban movement reportedly arose as a result of “Topless Tuesday,” a promotion for local espresso chain “Devil’s Brew,” now known as “XXXtreme Espresso.” Workers at the event wore “G-strings and pasties” to serve coffee drinks to the public. The event caused concerned citizens to worry about Spokane’s family values. City Councilman Mike Fagan, sponsor of the failed October proposal, reportedly said, “If we’re going to promote Spokane based on family values, we’re going to let this continue?”

The initiative implicates more than the “family values” concern about what children might see in a public place, however. The proposed ban is overinclusive, if aimed at the larger issues of nudity or exploitation in marketing (see, for example, allegations of prostitution at a similar Washington State “bikini espresso stand”). The ban also criminalizes women who staff espresso stands. Stand owners, who presumably crafted these dress policies in a bid for increased profits, likely wouldn’t face misdemeanor charges under this proposal.

And the idea of people voting on the expressive rights of others is troubling. In Spokane, however, both sides of the issue agree that a public vote is best. As reported, ban opponents on the City Council are in favor of letting the public decide. And so is Sarah Birnel, owner of Devil’s Brew/XXXtreme Espresso, who told the council that “voters should set nudity standards.” Referring to the vote, she is quoted as saying: “As an American, this is what we should stand for.”

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An Anti-Blanket Ordinance


The Pensacola anti-camping ordinance is being called an anti-blanket ordinance that operates to prevent the homeless from using a blanket or other means to keep themselves warm.

While blankets may not be expressive and thus within the First Amendment – – – as I analyze over at the Constitutional Law Professors Blog here – – – there should be equality concerns.  Or, as the petition directed against the ordinance contends, humanity concerns.

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Pentagon Changes Dress Code Policy for Religious Accomodation

Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it is relaxing dress code rules for religious accommodations. As reported, on a case by case basis, the new policy allows troops to wear religious clothing and other forms of outward expression when they are approved by higher-ups.

398px-Zalman_LipskierWith the relaxed policy, service persons can now wear hairstyles, beards, piercings, or even tattoos that would otherwise be barred. The policy was adapted “to promote the climate necessary to maintain good order and discipline [and] reduce both the instances and perception of discrimination among those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command.”

But not all accommodations will be made — commanders will deny a request if it has an “adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline.” As the Pentagon explained, “religious apparel that ‘impairs’ the safe operation of weapons, poses a safety hazard to others, or interferes with special equipment like helmets and flak jackets will not be permitted.”

388px-CaptRattansikhThe policy is not limited to any particular organized or recognized religions. NBC News reports that “the military will make every effort to accommodate ‘individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs’ (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of service members.” Indeed, in speaking to the press, the Pentagon stated that they place “a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”  

Reporters speculate that the policy change came in response to Sikh soldiers’ complaints over discrimination through dress.When it comes to the Constitution, the military receives special legal considerations for curbing traditional notions of free speech and exercise of religion, and challenges to policies are often difficult, if not impossible, to make. The military has also traditionally championed oneness and uniformity as ideal. As a result, many welcome the move as enhancing fundamental rights that would otherwise be difficult to uphold in the military context.  

However, Americans United, a group dedicated to the Constitution’s mandate of separation of church and state, issued a more cautious response, saying:

“Americans United fully appreciates the need and value of religious accommodations in the Armed Services. Yet, even as we support religious accommodations, we recognize the equally important and coextensive need to ensure that service members are not subject to coercive religious practices or unwanted proselytizing. Religious freedom means both the right to practice religion and the right to be free from government endorsement and coercion.”

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Khmer-American Artist Sewing in Protest

An important performance piece by Kate Eng:



As Kate Eng explains:

“</3 is not a campaign for pity or charity.  It is an act of solidarity with the women who labor under the boot of multinational corporations and their collapsing industrial machines, women who literally create immense value with their own callused hands yet remain in poverty.

It is a message to consumer culture: behind every stitch is a hand, a face, a person. It is a critique of working class commodification and the brand industrial complex. I am not here to list the names of every corporation engaged in exploitation in Cambodia- though I will. I am here to meet you, the consumer, and to be consumed by you and to rest in the pit of your stomach. To be explicit, to haunt you while you shop.”

Brooklyn Principal “Chastises” Parents for Exemptions from School Dress Code

As reported, Principal Lorenzo Chambers of Brooklyn’s P.S. 279 sent a letter to parents in which he questioned their alleged religious motives for opting their children out of the school’s dress code.

16990In New York City, a public school can voluntarily adopt a mandatory uniforms for their pupils. At Brooklyn’s P.S. 279, the required uniform consists of polos and blue khaki pants, but students may be exempt from the mandatory dress code for several recognized reasons, including religious. New York City law provides that “students have a right to … determine their own dress within the parameters of the Department of Education policy on school uniforms and consistent with religious expression.” To avoid disciplinary action, parents have 30 days to apply for the exemption, and students can face suspension and other punitive measures for violating the uniform requirement.

According to the letter sent to parents last month, Principal Chambers became alarmed by parents claiming religious exemptions for their children after he deduced parents were falsely invoking religious expression claims “when clearly there are no such reasons.” He concluded this “because some of [the] children wore their uniforms last year and not this year.”

He added, “school is about learning, not about what we look like and asserting one’s individuality through what he/she wears,” and that “children should assert their individuality by who they are as a person — how hard they work or how kind they are to their peers or how respectful they are to adults.”

However, Chambers may be overlooking the real reason behind the alleged false exemptions — rather than parental concern over a child’s self-expression, parents may seek exemption from the mandatory uniform because, simply, uniforms are expensive.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 6.12.43 PMIndeed, one P.S. 279 mother told reporters that she needed a month to save the money just to buy the uniform. “If you go to school without the uniform, they make you change and put one on … It’s not good sometimes if you don’t have enough money. It’s $15 for pants and $7 for a shirt. It adds up.” The uniform can be purchased online at

While for some “it’s just a uniform,” for others who struggle to make ends meet, it can be a very serious expense with drastic consequences. And though the Constitution’s right to freedom of religion may afford a student exemption from the mandatory dress codes, unfortunately for many New York City families, economic hardship is not also protected in this way.

As far as the administration goes, the school might be better served if there were first inquiry into the reasons for claimed religious exemptions, rather than accusations of lying and telling parents they do a “‘disservice” to the community by opting out of purchasing uniforms. Indeed, given the outspoken critics of Principal Chamber’s letter, attempting to ameliorate the need for exemptions, rather than chastising parents, might just be a better strategy all around.  

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“Etiquette Police” Proposed for Kansas Legislative Interns

1954KansasBorderKansas state representative Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) recently proposed a comprehensive code of dress and conduct for legislative interns. As reported, the code would have required a very specific look for the “ladies” and “gentlemen” of the incoming class of interns. Violations of the proposed would lead to dismissal.

Women would have to wear business or “dressy” attire, and avoid, amongst other items, “skirts/pants that are too tight, skinny dress pants and revealing necklines.” Men would be required to wear a suit or other business appropriate dress, and abide by various hair restrictions: clean, neat hair without “over-the-top colors,” and either very short or no facial hair. Further, only women could wear earrings (and only one in each ear), and interns could have no visible tattoos and would have to remove all other piercings. 

The reason for these detailed restrictions? While the code is apparently in response to “a few complaints about decorum,” Representative Mast is also reportedly concerned with the inner lives of interns: “We want to set it up so they can take pride in the position they hold. Hopefully, they’ll benefit from it.” 

However, one wonders how stripping persons of their self-expression and enforcing rigid conformity will result in pride or benefit. The linking of “pride” and “benefit” to a dress code obscures the underlying assumptions about what kind of people take “pride” in their work, and the limitations on access to intern positions that might arise from forcing participants to purchase and wear potentially expensive clothing. 

Luckily, the proposal did not find support among Kansas lawmakers, and the rules were “edited out” of the legislative intern guide. The dress of interns remains at the discretion of individual lawmakers, at least some of who will not “worry about facial hair, tattoos, and piercings.” 

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Update on NYC Suit Against Jewish Orthodox-owned Stores for Alleged Discrimination

As previously discussed on Dressing Constitutionally, the New York City Commission on Human Rights recently filed complaints against seven Jewish Orthodox-owned stores that allegedly violated City law by discriminating against the “gender and creed” of patrons through the stores’ dress code.

This Tuesday, The New York Times reports the City’s action against the stores is settled, requiring the Brooklyn-based stores to pay nothing. Though the Commission’s originally sought fines against the stores, the 800px-Satmar_community_Williamsburg_brooklyn_new_yorkCommission is now “satisfied that the store owners understand their obligations under NYC Human Rights Law.” The Commissioner also assured reporters that if the stores “were to post new signs in their windows, they would say that while modest dress is appreciated, all individuals are welcome to enter the stores free from discrimination.”

The attorney representing the stores pro bono told the Times, “it’s inconceivable that it could be a human rights violation for Hasidic Jews to make the same statement that stores and restaurants all over the city make,” referring to the various gendered dress codes across New York City which result in blatant discrimination similar to that alleged against the Williamsburg stores. 

Asked about the settlement, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not initially comment because he was not aware of the issue. As Yeshiva World News reports though, the Mayor eventually told reporters, “we want to respect every community in everything we do” but adding “we also have laws that we are here to uphold.”

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