Ill. Sheriff's deputy denied right to Islamic Scarf
A national Islamic advocacy group is calling on Illinois' Cook County Sheriff's Department to allow a Muslim deputy to wear a religiously-mandated headscarf. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says sheriff's department officials have repeatedly denied the deputy's requests for religious accommodation, claiming it violates uniform guidelines.
The woman, a Cook County Deputy Sheriff since 1993, converted to Islam in January of this year and began wearing an Islamic headscarf at that time. When she went to work wearing a scarf matching her uniform, she was told to file a written request for religious accommodation. (The Muslim deputy provides security at a county courthouse.)
When the deputy did not receive a timely reply to that request, she asked if she could wear her scarf pending a decision. That request was denied. She now wears her scarf off duty and removes it while at work.
The department's denial of religious accommodation came despite the fact that such accommodations have been offered to employees of other faiths. According to an EEOC complaint, the department currently allows a Jewish uniformed officer to wear a yarmulke, or skullcap.
"An inflexible, and arbitrarily applied policy aimed at uniformity of appearance is insufficient to override an individual's deeply-help religious beliefs. America's increasing religious, cultural and ethnic diversity requires that creative solutions be found to balance the needs of employers with the religious rights of employees," said CAIR Civil Rights Manager Joshua Salaam.
In a letter to Cook County Sheriff Michael F. Sheahan, CAIR demanded that his department: 1) allow the Muslim deputy to wear her Islamic headscarf while at work, 2) clarify its policy on religious accommodation, 3) institute religious sensitivity training for department staff, and 4) compensate the Muslim employee for the negative financial and emotional impact resulting from the department's denial of religious accommodation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religious beliefs or practices. The act requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee, unless to do so would create an undue hardship. CAIR publishes a booklet, "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," designed to prevent these types of incidents.
There are an estimated 400,000 Muslims in the Chicago area.