Muslim Woman Testifies Before Senate Committee on Workplace
Religious Freedom Act
In what may be a first-of-its-kind event, a Muslim woman in Islamic dress on October 21 joined representatives of other faiths in testifying before a U.S. Senate committee in defense of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (S. 1124).
The bill, which would apply the same standard for an employer's "undue hardship" in cases of religious discrimination as are currently applied in other federal civil rights actions, is co-sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires an employer to offer reasonable accommodation of an employee's religious practices, unless such an accommodation would pose an "undue hardship."
Beginning with an Islamic phrase in Arabic meaning "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful," Anjum Smith told the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee about her struggle to wear a religiously-mandated head scarf as a US Airways ground crew worker. The Virginia native thanked the committee for inviting her and then detailed the series of events leading to the air carrier's decision to allow the scarf.
Smith said her family encouraged her to fight for her rights. "It took a lot of strength and determination for me to get to the point to take the looks and the ridicule," said Smith. At first, US Airways denied her request for religious accommodation. Later, according to Smith, the company said she could wear the scarf but could not wear it where the public might see her. Smith refused this condition. She told the committee, "They wanted to hide me in the closet."
Smith, while acknowledging the company's willingness to change, said the struggle for religious accommodation is not over, in that the US Airways' policy allowing Islamic dress does not cover all employees or positions.
"This testimony is a milestone in the history of the American Muslim community," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Muslim voices are beginning to be heard at all levels of American society. This can only lead to a better understanding of Islam in general and increased accommodation of Islamic religious practices in the workplace," said Awad.