Monday, February 26, 2007

Not quite Herouxville, but...

Muslim girl ejected from [soccer] tournament for wearing hijab

Five young teams from across Canada walked out of a Quebec soccer tournament Sunday because a young Muslim girl was ejected for wearing a hijab.

Calling the rule banning the headscarf worn by Muslim women racist, four other teams followed Asmahan Mansour's team, the Nepean Selects from Ottawa, after she was thrown out for running afoul of a Quebec Soccer Association rule.

"The referee was staring and pointing. 'She can't play,'" said Asmahan, Asi to her friends. "I was like why? Why can't I play?"

Because of a safety rule, league spokesman Lyes Arfa said. He pointed out that the referee is Muslim himself, and that the ban on hijabs is to protect children from being accidentally strangled.

Ah. Well, that might be unfortunate but I guess I could see hwy there might be a safety issue there, and why a children's sports league would have to prioritize safety. There's a picture at the link, and, yes, I guess I could see the hijab she's wearing getting twisted around her neck.

And the league had told organizers about the rule — "The wearing of the Islamic veil or any other religious item is not permitted" — before the game.

Ah. Never mind.

Unless there's some perfect correlation of which I was previously unaware between "religious items" and "things that could accidentally strangle you," the safety rationale offered was pretextual. It's unrelated to the rule that was actually applied, which singles out religious items and particularly the "veil," which I doubt is being worn by any girls who are running around a soccer field exposing their limbs anyway. It's not a rule against items tied around the neck.

This will no doubt get spun as a "reasonable accommodations" dispute. As I've written before, issues of exemptions and reasonable accommodations arise when a generally neutral rule, such as a safety rule, incidentally impacts on cultural or religious activities. Then one has to figure out the importance of the rule, the importance of the activity, and so on. When the rule directly targets activities on the basis of their religious character, it's not a case calling for exemption; it's a case calling for repeal of an illiberal rule.

In a setting in which one may not wear any hat, or must wear prescribed headgear such as a helmet, the question of whether one may wear a hijab, turban, or yarmulke requires balancing and may but may not require an exemption. But if one is allowed to wear any hat except for a hijab, turba, or yarmulke, then what's at issue is simple discrimination against religion and violation of religious freedom.

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