The LA Times today has a story about a young woman who is having a dispute with Disney: she’s a restaurant hostess at Storyteller’s Cafe, and wants to wear her hijab (head scarf) as part of her costume. Disney has indicated the request is being reviewed by corporate, and until they make a decision, she was offered a position backstage where she was free to wear the hijab. Disney indicated that all positions that work with guests directly have specific costume rules (and those who know Disney know they take this very seriously).
Now, I happen to agree with both sides to some extent with this. Disney has the right to dictate the costumes and dress codes for their guest-interacting positions: they are a private company, and they are not firing her or lowering her salary based on her religion. But I also agree that she should have the right to wear her religious attire. Even more so, however, I see her as a pawn: pushed into this by supporters pushing an agenda, which lead to the inability to find a creative solution.
However, what bothers me more about this situation are the comments to the article: “Muslims back to their own land and their own miserable lives.” “Let’s just say no 2 Islam.”, and others of that ilk. This relates to the anti-Islam fervor best illustrated by the controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center in New York. My feeling: if zoning laws would permit an equivalent Christian institution at that location, the Islamic center should be permitted.
As a Jew, I think it is our responsibility to speak up for our Islamic bretheren. If it were antisemitism rearing its ugly head, we’d be seeing the same lines and actions against Jews. Why is it acceptable when it is against Muslims? The answer is that it isn’t. What makes America a special place—and is a reason many in other countries are so offended by our presence—is our freedom to practice whatever religions we want free of government pressure. The religious extremists of all ilks want to impose their religion on us, and we must fight that by proudly demonstrating for religious freedom, whether or not we like the religion. Just as Freedom of Speech means that sometimes you must face uncomfortable or insulting speech, Freedom of Religion applies to all religions, whether a particular person likes them or not.