U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Retailer, Supports Woman Wearing Hijab

stranger 209 nada, photo by peter grifoni

stranger 209 nada, photo by peter grifoni

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled in favor of Samantha Elauf in a suit against an Abercombie & Fitch store in Oklahoma over the discrimination she experienced in 2008. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the suit on behalf of Elauf who had sought employment with the popular retail chain as a sales person. According to reports she interviewed well, but wasn’t hired because managers viewed her head scarf “hijab” as contrary to the company’s image.

In its defense, the company said it had a standard “look policy” for its sales staff that did not include wearing a head scarf. It also said Elauf had never informed it of her religion nor of her need for accommodation based on her faith. This specious argument was as dubious as those practiced by employers pre-Civil Rights America during which African-American candidates were denied jobs by stating that they “didn’t fit in” or that “the customers may feel unsafe.”

In fact, Scalia described the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. Abercrombie as “easy” because the store managers knew or “at least suspected” Elauf wore the head scarf for religious reasons. Her hijab was as obvious as the color of an African-American’s skin. In an age with ubiquitous and easy access to information through the internet, one would have to live under a rock to claim no knowledge of the religious significance of this type of head covering for Muslim women.

Justice Scalia stated that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 puts the legal burden on employers not to discriminate. It gives “favored treatment” to religion, and “religious practice is one of the protected characteristics … that must be accommodated.” The majority ruled that it did not matter whether Elauf informed the company of her need for religious accommodation as long as the desire to avoid making such an accommodation was part of the company’s action. (Source: L.A. Times)

This favorable ruling is a win for not only observant Muslim women, but also Orthodox Jewish women who are also required to cover their heads while in public. This ruling is also significant in that it can provision additional freedoms for observant religious people like Muslims and Jews who abstain from work on holy days of the year, many of which conflict with employer work schedules.

“This case dramatically changes the standards that apply to employers because it removes the requirement that an employee or applicant request a religious accommodation, if the employer’s motive is later deemed a violation of Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act, said Michael Droke, a Seattle lawyer.

This ruling sets the U.S. apart from the European Union. Many countries in the E.U. have enacted increasingly discriminatory laws aimed at Muslims, and because of increased secularism it has also given rise to new levels of anti-Semitism. Notably, France, which has sought to keep religion out of public spaces and schools, in 2010 law banned the wearing of full-faced veils in public, and last year a French appeals court upheld the dismissal of a Muslim day-care employee for refusing to remove her head scarf at work.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ruled that employers may not “refuse to hire” or otherwise discriminate against someone because of their “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” And the law says religion “includes all aspects of religious observance or practice as well as belief.”

A federal judge ruled Elauf was a victim of illegal discrimination, and a jury awarded her $20,000 in compensation.

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
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Neo-Nazism, Roma, and the Baby in the Middle

roma anti-segregation demonstration In budapest, hungary, 2013, photo by brell stewart

roma anti-segregation demonstration In budapest, hungary, 2013, photo by brell stewart

MAKO, Hungary - In America, racism is identified primarily as a ‘black’ and ‘white’ issue. It is considered a systemic problem that evolved out of slavery and continues to be promulgated by people on both sides through ideology, lack of education, and plain hatred.

Increasingly, with the explosion of extremist groups divided along religious and ethnic lines that transcend color; xenophobia has become the norm in response to the other and the concept of racism breaks down as understood from an American vantage point.

The rise of Neo-Nazism, White Supremacists, and Aryan Nations movements continues to plague America, but to a less dangerous degree than the far-right political parties gaining prominence and power across Europe. These groups, like the violent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have harnessed the power of the internet and social media to disseminate their messages of hate and to gain ill-informed followers.

These seemingly respectable political parties and their leaders present an appearance of civility and nationalism, when in fact their rhetoric has fomented a resurgence of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-African immigrants, and anti-Roma. Anti-Roma? Most would ask, “What is that?”

For people and organizations with a focus on fighting against human rights abuses, and who are very familiar with the usual players, both victims and victimizers, the Roma or Travellers as they prefer to be called, or derogatorily referred to as ‘Gypsies,’ are a known persecuted group. From 1939 to 1945 the Nazis instituted a policy to eradicate the Roma.

“While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Of the slightly less than one million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000 in the Holocaust.” (Source: Holocaust Encyclopedia)

In the seven decades since, the Roma have rebuilt their lives and their culture, albeit one that continues to be at odds with the more traditional lifestyles of modern societies. They have been maligned as ‘evil,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘thieves,’ and ‘murderers’ because of the actions of a few, and perhaps even more than a few. Just as America has been grappling with an alarming rate of young black men being murdered by police simply because of their skin color, and thus bore the burden of the bad acts of other men who happened to be similarly hued; the Roma are being targeted because of the bad acts of their brethren.

But, why is this news worthy? Because people believe in the mystical power of a new year, that it will bring change, good fortune, peace and happiness. So, on December 31st, despite history to the contrary, the world once again rejoiced one minute past midnight as 2015 began. It was also the beginning of Rikardo Racz’s life who was born in Hungary to Roma parents Peter and his wife Sylvia.

As traditional in many communities across the country, and apparently across Europe as well, the first baby born in the New Year is afforded fanfare and publicity for having arrived at such a propitious hour. But, Rikardo’s birth has now been heralded as anything but, since a photo of the proud parents holding their son, elicited a vitriolic response from Elod Novak, deputy leader of the far-right Jobbik party who posted a picture of his ‘pure white’ Hungarian family on Facebook inciting his followers to express such sentiments as "They're breeding like rats, like parasites," and that they were going to dilute the purity of the Hungarian bloodline.

“Elod Novak, the Parliamentary deputy, has refused to apologise for his comments and even suggested that Peter should apologise to him. Far-right media are still full of allegations of an "explosion" of Roma births. They maintain its Hungary's biggest problem. They don't seem to realise that Roma are Hungarians too.” (Source: BBC)

Prior to Rikardo’s birth, BBC reported that the Racz family lived a quiet life in their community working and sending their two daughters to kindergarten, and despite the fact that they were the only Roma living in the small village, they never experienced any hostility or racism. Now they must confront a new reality, one in which Peter laments, "All that differentiates us is the colour of our skin. We have the same hearts and blood and souls." (Source: BBC)

And why should any of this concern us? In these days and times of intolerance and fear, of apathy and myopia, we would do well to remember the perils of not standing up to injustice as captured in poetry by Protestant Pastor Martin Niemöller who was subsequently sent to a concentration camp.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Socialist, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Socialist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up."

 

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
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