Home | About | Donate

The Important Case of Samantha Elauf and the Workplace Rghts of Muslim Women


The Important Case of Samantha Elauf and the Workplace Rghts of Muslim Women

Reem Subei

As we await the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the case of Samantha Elauf, it's important to reconsider our understanding of race, religion, sex discrimination and how history and international perspectives come together to shape our daily lives.


Maybe Muslim women are having problems with liberating themselves because they wear scarves and burkhas, an obvious display of their subserviency to Muslim men that dress any way they like.


No. I’m all for reasonable accommodation, but this is just wrong. A & F has a look standard for their models (the position Elauf was applying for). We may think that policy is silly, but it’s their right to have that policy and it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. Anyone who doesn’t wish to conform to that look standard doesn’t have to work as one of their models.

If a woman who had religious convictions against dancing and having any part of her body exposed except her eyes were to apply for the job of stripper at a strip bar, should the employer be compelled to accommodate her performing without dancing and while being fully covered? That would be absurd. If the particulars of the job are against a person’s religious convictions, that person doesn’t have to apply for that job and they especially should not get to impose a burden of special accommodation onto employers by legal fiat. That’s unfair to both employers and the unreligious.

But even worse, in the A & F case, their policy has a process in place which allows for employees and prospective employees to obtain exceptions based on religious convictions, but Elauf sought no such exception. Her complaint here is that A & F had an obligation to allow her headscarf without her having to ask for any accommodation whatsoever.

The concern here appears to be that they weren’t showing enough sensitivity to a minority religion. Well nuts to that. It isn’t any employer’s job to keep up on all the particulars of all the thousands of fringe religions out there. My feeling is that anyone seeking special religious accommodation should have to ask for it, even if they belong to a mainstream religion. In commenting on this case, Ginsberg said “They don’t have to accommodate a baseball cap. They do have to accommodate a yarmulke” which 1) misses the central point of whether they have to accommodate a yarmulke without anyone having to ask for such accommodation and 2) How does Ginsberg know that there isn’t someone out there who wears a baseball cap for religious reasons? Maybe she’s the one who’s being insensitive to a minority religion.

The Supreme Court has previously held that religious accommodation does not extend, for example, to personal drug use–which is an imposition on nobody. But now they appear to be favorably disposed towards imposing a burden of mindreading onto employers and prospective employers in the name of religious accommodation. That’s not merely inconsistent, but requires pretzel logic in order to twist the justifications to arrive at positions which are exactly the reverse of what would be fair and reasonable. If the Court rules in Elauf’s favor in this case, I will consider that yet another in a growing body of bad rulings.


I guess you weren’t around in the sixties when women’s liberators threw away their bras.


They threw away their bras to liberate themselves from the male imposed requirement that they look “sexy”.

The male-dominated western culture imposes on women a requirement that women walking in the streets look barely less revealing than whores. There is nothing “liberating” about this. Muslim women dress modestly for the same reason some western women stopped wearing bras under their shirts and blouses.

There is nothing “male imposed” about a Muslim choosing to dress traditionally in the west. They dress modestly becasue they want to, in observance of their traditions and culture, and to keep sexist men away.

By the way, Orthodox Jewish women always dress modestly too angle-length skirts and long-sleeve tops with full collars even in summer. And then there is the traditional Amish, Old Order Mennoniite, and (in Canada) Hudderite women’s dress. Why are they never picked on?


Yes, Yunzer. I was just about to ask what about the orthodox Jewish male who wears a kippah. Should he not have to remove it when working in a public place?

And the Sikh male?

On the other hand, perhaps observant Muslim women could resort to the compromise found by Orthodox Jewish women, which is to wear a wig instead of a hat or scarf or turban to cover the head. That would show good will and accommodation and it would also put the onus on western society, which already accepts even the most grotesque and obvious wigs on Jewish women’s heads.


Well, it looks like the Supreme Court took the side of Ms. Elauf in an 8-1 decision only Thomas ('natch) dissenting.

And why in a free society, should Ms. Elauf show “good will and accommodation”??? The onus is on society to accommodate to her! That is what the First Amendment is all about. And it looks like the justices, including some pretty right ones, agree with me.


The first Amendment - as expanded to include conditions of employment under the Civil Rights Act, that is. This makes Thomas’s dissent particularly ironic.


How is modest dress “demeaning”? Being made to dress like a whore by the sex-laden advertising by the capitalists is what is demeaning to women.


Are Russian babushka head scarves - or other types of head scarf - such as my wife might wear, a “symbol of misogyny”. Why do you oppose modesty in dress?


Yes, and when in Rome, buy some slaves too, right? And with regard to the USA, WHAT CULTURE??? Are you going to ban everything from pierogies, to mole, to pasta to curry to Pho, to Mozart, to Tchaikovsky to Shakespeare to the Beatles - becasue NONE of this is American. Oh, and hot dogs (Frankfurters) and Hamburgers (from Hamburg) are German.

Take your protestant racist oppression and intolerance elsewhere.


“I was just about to ask what about the orthodox Jewish male who wears a kippah. Should he not have to remove it when working in a public place?”

No he should not - and in my city, they don’t.

And the Sikh male?

No he should not, and in my culturally diverse city, they don’t.


The intolerance expressed by the majority of commenters here is vile and disgusting.


Ho do you “unlike” an accidental “like”?


Are Indian Saris a symbol of subservience too? When I see a middle eastern woman with her head covered, I only see a person wearing the traditional clothing of their home. This is a good thing. Fuck the imperialist west.


Wow. I’m glad someone finally brought that up. The sexist advertising and fashion industries (the latter run, I am quite certain, by misogynists or by gay men with a horribly distorted ideal of femininity --is that a word?–) continue to create fads and trends that inevitably disguise women as sex workers – not just any sex workers, but the lowest of the low street walkers controlled and abused by pimps and gangs, girls and women with absolutely no control over their own bodies or minds. Yet this is what young women are being conditioned to parade as.


Yup. What then is your opinion of legislation like the one in the province of Quebec (French republic wannabes who don’t have France’s history of struggle to become a truly secular society)? Should the state be able to legislate that doctors, nurses, civil servants and teachers (even day care workers) go to work bare-headed? What about individuals who wear crosses or stars of David around their necks? Shouldn’t they be told to conceal their amulets, which might actually be more offensive to some patients or clients than a covered head? What about Quebec nationalists’ ultimate kick at logic - the National Assembly as well as some hospitals should not have to removed the cross from their rooms because the cross is part of “Quebec’s cultural heritage”? (I know I’ve strayed from the original topic, but the concept of “accommodation” is quite broad.


oops - typo: should not have to remove.


I could see where Saris or hoodies or other headgear with a protective function would be practical. I only object to using it to oppress the opposite sex.