For nearly 200 years, headgear has been prohibited within the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol. The Democrats -- who will be in the majority in January -- have proposed to allow religious headwear -- hijab. The change was presented by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is the likely Speaker of the House of the incoming Congress, Incoming Rules Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Born in Somalia, Omar is one of two Muslim female Democrats who were elected last week.
A progressive who has been critical of President Donald Trump’s policies regarding Muslim immigration and the Middle East, Omar regularly wears a headscarf that covers her hair, as is customary among some Muslim women. She is also the first black woman to represent Minnesota. Omar is taking the seat previously occupied by Rep. Keith Ellison (R-Minn.), who in turn was the first Muslim elected to Congress. He is now Minnesota’s state attorney general. Omar will be joined by Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim and progressive Democrat who is the first Muslim to represent the Mitten State.
Since 1837, no hats have been permitted on the House floor. Currently, House rules contain a section on comportment in the chamber: “During the session of the House, a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may not wear a hat or remain by the Clerk’s desk during the call of the roll or the counting of ballots.” The section reads, “A person on the floor of the House may not smoke or use a mobile electronic device that impairs decorum. The Sergeant-at-Arms is charged with the strict enforcement of this clause.”
A previous attempt to alter the time-honored rules was spurned. In 2010, Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson, who frequently wears hats from her collection of colorful western hats, told the Miami Herald “Hats are what I wear. People get excited when they see the hats. Once you get accustomed to it, it’s just me. Some people wear wigs, or high heel shoes or big earrings or pins. This is just me.”
While there have long been Jews serving in the House and Senate, there have been no petitions from that quarter to allow members to wear Jewish religious headwear, such as kippah (yarmulke) skullcaps, in the House chamber. In other areas of government, standards for ethnic and religious headwear have been relaxed. For example, in early 2017, a U.S. soldier of the Sikh faith was allowed to wear a turban -- which is required for male adherents of the religion that was founded in India. Since 2014, Jews were allowed to wear kippah yarmulke. Since then, the adherents of various faiths have been allowed to petition to wear beards. And, Muslim women in the Army are allowed to wear hijab.