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Congress Ends Ban on Religious Headwear, Reversing 181-Year-old Law

Last week, the newly Democratic-controlled House tossed out a 181-year-old rule that banned hats from the floor to accommodate lawmakers who wear religious headwear. On Thursday, the first two female Muslim congressional representatives in history took office. The move was championed by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others.

The new rule is a win for Americans who wish to serve in Congress without hiding or altering the authenticity of their religion. The vote took place on the same day Congress welcomed its first two female Muslim members, Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.).

An important thing to note, the United States military does not recognize Rastafarianism as a religious faith, however, recent rule changes have allowed dreadlocks for service members.

In 2017, the U.S. Army began allowing turbans, hijabs, beards, and dreadlocks and the Marine Corps changed its rules to allow women to wear dreadlocks in uniform. With the Navy being the last to implement a rule change, all four branches of military have new rules to accommodate service members with dreads — including the U.S.National Guard.

Source: New York Times

Black service members made a compelling case for officials in recent years. The new rules highlight how much has changed, and how much more understanding the U.S. Department of Defense has become when considering cultural differences between service members.

Service members argued that the military’s rules in the past were unfairly skewed to accommodate European hairstyles, something black service members know intimately affects the health and appearance of kinky African hair.

In an op-ed published in The Guardian, a contributor details how difficult it is for black service members to maintain European hairstyles in the military. The writer points out that it can sometimes take hours to style thick or kinky hair and often requires help from a second person.

Rastafarianism is an afro-centric religious and social movement. Scholars of religion and related fields have classified it as both a new religious movement and a social movement.

U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress also wore dreads before moving to Washington.

In a social media post, Plaskett said, “The decision to grow locs is for many a spiritual self affirmation a statement of belief in self. I had locs for over 14 years from 1996 to 2010. Wellllll before it was ‘okay’. I had people look at me sideways, a black boss in one of the largest [prosecutor’s] office in the country practically [cursed] me out for my decision to start locs… But they were me.”

November’s General Election in the Virgin Islands included a diverse mix of candidates, with an influx in women running for office. Former Senator ‘Positive’ Nelson and Senator Janelle K. Sarauw are perhaps the most notable individuals to hold office in recent years.

“The decision to cut my locs was also a deeply personal one representing a place and time- a cutting or removal of elements I wanted to release. I don’t have locs now but believe… I’m still dred,” the Congresswoman added.

Now that Congress allows religious headwear on the House floor, it’s unclear if the new rules recognize Rastafarianism as a legitimate religion. The new rules could create opportunities for future Delegates who wear dreadlocks and headwear to match — primarily those representing U.S. territories.

The U.S. military added Humanism, Druid, Reform Judaism, and now recognizes over 200 religions.

Featured image by the St. Thomas Source.