A passage in Kent Greenawalt’s Does God Belong in Public Schools? discusses the case of a Muslim school teacher who could not teach in Philadelphia public schools because she wore “religious garb,” which violated the Pennsylvania’s “Religious Garb” statute.
That no teacher in any public school shall wear in said school or while engaged in the performance of his duty as such teacher any dress, mark, emblem or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect or denomination.
I wondered if a distinction could be made between clothing which identifies a person as part of a religious order and clothing which identifies a person as a member of a religion. I wanted to assert that members of an order typically wear the same style of clothes, almost a uniform, while Muslim women, while complying with custom or perceived religious instruction, wear a wide variety of clothing. Is it still religious clothing if her hem line is 2 cm above her ankles or 5 cm of her forearms are revealed? Does color matter? Is the shelwar qamees worn in the Indian subcontinent acceptable while an abaya, common in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is unacceptable? Or vice versa? Continue reading