headscarves

Want to read a great religious freedom story? In The New York Times? (Wait for it ... )

Want to read a great religious freedom story? In The New York Times? (Wait for it ... )

Want to read a great story about religious freedom and freedom of conscience?

Want to read a great story about this topic — religious liberty, not “religious liberty” — in The New York Times?

Well, that’s what this post is about. Here’s the headline: “She Wears a Head Scarf. Is Quebec Derailing Her Career?

How did this story happen?

Well, for starters, it’s about a religious liberty linked to the life and beliefs of a Muslim woman. It’s not a story about white evangelical Protestant cake bakers in USA flyover country or traditional Catholics wrestling with liberal Catholics on some issue of marriage and sexuality.

In other words, this is a religious liberty case that — in terms of readers — pulls together the old left-right First Amendment coalition that existed several decades ago, when you could pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the U.S. Senate and only three people would oppose it. It’s the kind of case that brings American religious conservatives together with liberal activists, attempting to — oh — protect the rights of Muslims in U.S. prisons.

It also helps that this drama is set in Canada and the bad guys are “right-leaning.” In other words, zero Donald Trump-era implications. Here is the overture:

MONTREAL — Maha Kassef, 35, an ambitious elementary schoolteacher, aspires to become a principal. But since she wears a Muslim head scarf, she may have to derail her dreams: A proposed bill in Quebec would bar public school principals, and other public employees, from wearing religious symbols.

“How am I supposed to teach about respect, tolerance and diversity to my students, many of whom are immigrant kids, when the government is asking me to give up who I am?” asked Ms. Kassef, the child of Kuwaiti immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to send her and her four siblings to college.

“What right does the Quebec government have to stop my career?” she added.

Religious minorities in Quebec are reeling after the right-leaning government of François Legault proposed the law last week. It would prohibit not just teachers, but other public sector workers in positions of authority, including lawyers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while working.

What’s the point here? The Times explains that this proposed law is advocating the brand of radical secularism and church-state separation that has its roots in France.

In other words, we are not talking about a First Amendment debate.

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Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

A Christian woman in a headscarf! And the state forced her to take it off!

The American Civil Liberties Union sure knew the media-sexy spin for its lawsuit against Alabama, which wouldn't let Yvonne Allen wear her headgear for a driver license photo. Especially when a court clerk said only Muslims would be allowed to do so.

And mainstream media joined in the spin -- so avidly that none of them even talked to Allen. It's a "religious ghost" that screams for attention: What type of Christian is she? And what church does she attend that tells her to cover her head?

That's just one of several ways nearly everyone has mishandled this story.

Allen, of Tuskegee, Ala., went for a driver license renewal, but a clerk ordered her to bare her head before being photographed. She protested on grounds that her Christian beliefs forbid a woman from showing her hair. 

The clerks forced her to do so anyway, saying that only Muslim women are allowed headscarves for photos. This despite the fact that Alabama law allows headscarves in photos -- without naming any particular religion -- as long as they don’t hide the face. 

Allen says it was "humiliating and demeaning," and she's suing to have her license photo reshot. The suit also demands unspecified damages.

It's a crazy story, rife with ironies and prejudice, not to mention several constitutional issues. But most reports thus far have done little more than copy and paste the allegations in the ACLU filing.

And, as I say, they’ve also gone along with the spin. Yvonne Allen's headware is more like a turban, as you can see in a picture on the ACLU website. But by using the loaded term "headscarf," the lawsuit echoes the many incidents -- like the two Muslim women recently thrown out of a French restaurant -- of hijab harassment.

Let's start with the much-cited Associated Press:

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Istanbul's LGBTQ community: Dealing with 'conservative attitudes' or DNA of Islamic law?

Istanbul's LGBTQ community: Dealing with 'conservative attitudes' or DNA of Islamic law?

If you are reading a newspaper in India and you see a reference to "community violence," or perhaps "communal violence," do you know how to break that code?

As I have mentioned before, a young Muslim journalist explained that term to me during a forum in Bangalore soon after the release of the book "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion."

Whenever there are violent clashes between religious groups, especially between Hindus and Muslims, journalists leave out all of the religious details and simply report that authorities are dealing with another outbreak of "community violence." Readers know how to break the code.

As the student told me, if journalists write accurate, honest stories about some religious subjects in the nation's newspapers, then "more people are going to die."

I thought of that again reading the top of a recent Washington Post story about the tensions in Istanbul between civil authorities and the LGBT community in modern Istanbul, symbolized by confrontations during gay pride parades. Please consider this a post adding additional information to the complex religious issues that our own Bobby Ross, Jr., described in his post about terrorist attacks -- almost certainly by ISIS -- at the always busy Ataturk International Airport in that city.

Here is the overture for that earlier Post report:

ISTANBUL -- It was just after sunset when patrons began to arrive, climbing a dark stairwell to the bar’s modest entrance. Here, in dimly lit corners, is where the mostly gay clientele come to canoodle and drink -- but without the threat of violence or harassment.

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What got that Wheaton professor suspended — her headscarf or her views on Islam?

What got that Wheaton professor suspended — her headscarf or her views on Islam?

As news broke concerning the suspension of a Wheaton College professor who voiced solidarity with Muslim women, I cranked out a quick post yesterday.

With a couple of minor quibbles, I praised the early work by the Chicago Tribune and its star religion writer, Manya Brachhear Pashman.

But a few readers took issue with the Tribune's original lede, which I had quoted in my post:

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.

Reader Paul Smith complained:

(T)he issue was not the hijab, but the statement that the professor made that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Not to worry: The Tribune story got better — and more precise — as the day went on.

Imagine that: Even in this age of 24/7 information overload, it still takes journalists (who are real humans, not robots) time to report, edit and fine-tune the kind of high-quality reports that show up on the front page the next morning. Even if media critics like myself occasionally jump the gun and analyze a developing story in real time.

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Case of the Wheaton professor who wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims

Case of the Wheaton professor who wore a headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims

"We know the real God," a Christian minister told me when I interviewed him after the San Bernardino massacre. "God is not Allah."

“My job is to take a Muslim and turn him away from Muhammad, who is still dead, and turn him to Jesus Christ, who rose and sits at the right hand of God," another minister told me on that same reporting trip for The Christian Chronicle.

I thought about those comments as I read a developing story from the Chicago area.

Manya Brachear Pashman, the talented Godbeat pro for the Chicago Tribune (and the new president of the Religion Newswriters Association), reported the news this morning.

The top of her story:

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.
Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college in Chicago's west suburbs, announced last week that she would wear the veil to show support for Muslims who have been under greater scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
"I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book," she posted on Facebook.
But it was that explanation of her gesture that concerned some evangelical Christians, who read her statement as a conflation of Christian and Muslim theology.
"While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God's revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer," Wheaton College said in a statement.

That's a nice, evenhanded summary that, it seems to me, fairly quotes both sides.

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