Legal Learning: Cover your head, women
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, told women to cover their heads. He said in Chapter 11 of his letter that "a husband (is) the head of his wife" and "for this reason, a woman should have a sign of authority on her head."
The Catholic Code of Canon Law used to say that "men, in a church ... shall be bare-headed; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed."
I remember my mother pinning a handkerchief on her head whenever we entered a church. However, the code was repealed in 1983 and Catholic women no longer have to cover their heads in church.
Many Muslims, however, still believe that their religion requires women to keep their heads covered whenever they are outside their homes. Some Muslim women wear a hijab (head covering), and in Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is required by law. Others wear a burqa or niqab that also covers most of the face.
One Muslim woman explained that "taking off the head scarf is akin to being naked in front of those who are proscribed to see your hair."
Several years ago, a bill was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that would have required the full head and face to be shown on driver's license photos.
"It's a simple matter of public safety," the bill's chief author, Republican Rep. Steve Gottwalt said.
A Muslim woman responded by saying that "I would never walk outside without my hijab, never. If I take it off, I disobey God."
After years of debate, the Legislature decided last year that the commissioner of public safety can allow a driver's license to be issued without any photograph if "the licensee has religious objections to the use of a photograph." (Minn. Statute 171.071)
The U.S. State Department allows religious head coverings to be worn in passport photos, and the Transportation Security Administration allows them to stay in place at airport checkpoints.
In Europe, the lawmakers have not been so accommodating to Muslims. There are now six countries that forbid any face coverings in public places: France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. Four countries — Germany, Latvia, Finland and Luxembourg — are considering similar bans.
The U.S. Congress is currently wrestling with this issue. Ilhan Omar was elected to the House of Representatives last month from Minneapolis, and she is challenging the ban on head coverings in the House that has been in effect since 1837. She is the first hijabi elected to Congress.
Omar tweeted: "No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It's my choice — one protected by the First Amendment. And this is not the last ban I'm going to work to lift."
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota's Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jamesmanahan.com.