As veil-wearing is debated (and sometimes outlawed) in countries around the world, the U.S. Department of Justice is working to enforce laws that allow women to express their religious beliefs. All Americans have freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and this includes the right for Muslim women to wear the veil.
One such case of the U.S. government going to court to protect a woman’s right to veil occurred in 2009, when Essex County, New Jersey fired Yvette Besnier from her job at a county prison stating that her khimar – a religiously mandated headscarf – violated the uniform policy of the prison. The Department of Justice then sued the prison for violating Ms. Besnier’s right to wear the khimar, a right protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires that employers make reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious observances and practices.
Ms. Besnier’s case is not unique. The U.S. Department of Justice has fought to protect the right of Muslim women to wear hijabs, khimars, veils, and other religiously mandated clothing countless times (Somali refugee Bilan Nur and 12-year old student Nashala, for example). In fact, the Department works to protect practitioners of the many different religions that exist in the United States.
President Obama highlighted this freedom of religion during his 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. Speaking to a large crowd at Cairo University Mr. Obama said, “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion….That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.”