Last week, several members of the ICP Board attended the Annual Dinner of the Bay Area branch of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at the invitation of long-time ICP supporter Iftekhar Hai. CAIR works “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”
One achievement that was being celebrated that evening was the September victory in a case against Abercrombie and Fitch brought by a Muslim woman who was fired from a store in San Mateo for wearing a hijab at work. She was told she had to choose between her job and her religious commitment. Although Abercrombie & Fitch argued that hijabs were not compatible with their “look policy,” they ultimately chose to settle this case and another similar suit and to make changes in their policy. However, early this month, a federal appeals court ruled in Oklahoma ruled in favor of Abercrombie & Fitch in yet another case that centered on the wearing of the hijab.
In Quebec, Canada, the ruling Parti Quebecois is planning to introduce a Charter of Quebec Values that would ban public employees from wearing religious symbols or clothing- hijabs, Sikh turbans, Jewish kippot, or large Christian crosses or crucifixes. One result of the proposal is that demonstrations in Montreal have brought Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs together in opposition. “In a society that’s more and more multicultural, there need to be common rules and values,” said Bernard Drainville, the National Assembly member who drafted the Charter. How would the rules be enforced? By “common sense,” he replied.
Brian J. Grim is a senior researcher at the Pew Center Religion and Life Project. Last April, he gave a TEDx talk at the Vatican on “Religious Freedom by the Numbers.” He tracks limitations on religious freedom through government restrictions and social hostilities, and notes how high governmental control of religions is closely correlated with attacks on religious groups. Grim writes a blog called “the Weekly Number,” with weekly updates on global restrictions on religion.
What restrictions, if any, are appropriate on religious expression in the public arena? While we might “welcome, serve, and celebrate the diverse spiritual wisdom and faith traditions of the Bay Area,” should that activity be carried on in private settings, leaving us to “get along” with each other in the office, the school, the bank or on the bus because we can overlook our religious identity? Or is there an important role for all of us in learning to understand, appreciate, and respect the visible display of religious commitment?
This is the archive for the Bay Area Interfaith Connect, the former newsletter for the Interfaith Center at the Presidio .