What should have been a molehill Saturday turned into a mountain when a youth soccer referee downstate ruled that a Muslim teenager couldn't play while she wore a head scarf because it wasn't part of the team uniform.
Despite members of both Pinellas County teams arguing that Iman Khalil be permitted to play, and a previous U.S. Soccer Association ruling that religious articles can be worn if they don't pose a safety hazard, the referee insisted that the 15-year-old was ineligible.
Now the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a complaint and request for inquiry with Florida State Referees Inc., which certifies Florida State Soccer Association referees. It wants to determine what was behind the official's decision, said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of CAIR's Tampa chapter.
Whatever motivated the misguided referee's decision, the unfortunate event once again illustrates that, however much of a melting pot America is, intolerance of religious beliefs and practices, particularly those in the minority, remains a problem.
Just a few weeks ago, controversy erupted in the Palm Beach County community of Wellington when a youth football league refused to reschedule games on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day.
In 2005, a sixth-grader in Temple Terrace, near Tampa, was forced to sit out an Amateur Athletic Union basketball game because she, like Iman Khalil, refused to remove her hijab, a head scarf that observant Muslim women wear after they reach puberty as a sign of their faith.
And in 2004, a member of the University of South Florida women's basketball team was told by her coach that she couldn't wear a hijab, long pants and a long-sleeve shirt and still expect to play. This prompted the young woman, a convert to Islam, to quit the squad.
The issue is not about Islam. Rather, it's about America: Is our society, long considered a haven for religious tolerance, still welcoming to people of faiths not in the majority? (MORE)