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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Freedom to Believe and the Freedom to Practice: Title VII, Muslim Women, and Hijab


Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act nominally affirmed employees’ right to wear hijab in the workplace, the courts have taken an increasingly narrow view of the term “religion” and failed to uphold the right to wear hijab in both private and public sector settings on several occasions. This is because Title VII and its attendant protections are grounded in a framework that presumes Christianity as normative, and religiously mandated accoutrements as communicative in function. The manner in which harassment or discriminatory behavior takes place, however, often occurs outside of existing frameworks for employee protection, leaving employees with little opportunity for recourse. This paper will use a mix of critical race theory and gender studies scholarship to provide an overview and analysis of recent decisions regarding protections for wearing hijab in the workplace. It will also discuss how protections on religious freedoms protect the status quo rather than the rights of religio-cultural minorities.

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