Democrats Look To Change House Rules On Headwear To Accommodate Religious Beliefs Of New Lawmakers

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota).
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The House of Representatives may change a rule on wearing hats in its chambers to accommodate individuals whose headwear is symbolic of their religious beliefs.

The midterm elections of 2018 produced one of the most diverse outcomes of winners ever seen, according to reports from CBS News, including the election of two Muslim women for the first time ever to Congress.

One of those two women is working to change House rules to allow her to wear a headscarf. Representative-elect Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) is the first Somali-American ever elected to the legislative branch. She is working alongside current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become the next Speaker of the House, and Rep. Jim McGovern, who will become the chairman of the rules committee, to change the rules to conform to today’s values and recognition of religious freedom.

Rules requiring individuals to remove their hats in the House of Representatives have been on the books for 181 years, according to reporting from The Hill.

For most of the first 50 years that Congress was in session, hats were allowed within the halls of Congress for a very peculiar reason: many believed it allowed representatives to voice their opposition and independence of the executive branch, according to the House of Representatives website.

The idea was adopted from a tradition crafted in the United Kingdom. There, members of parliament often wore hats in noncompliance to the king, to show their independence from the monarchy and support of the people.

The rule to ban hats was first proposed in 1822 by Virginia Rep. Charles Mercer. It was turned down at that time, but brought back a few other times, including by Rep. James K. Polk, who would go on to become president.

Polk’s introduction of the rule change brought about lengthy debate that included the need to be able to protest the president, should it ever be needed. Rep. John Patton of Virginia expressed the idea of preserving the right to wear hats in statements during that debate.

“[W]henever, if ever, our executive magistrates shall attempt to employ any improper influence on this body, let us be found with our hats on,” Patton said.

The rule change was proposed again on September 14, 1837. This time around, there was very little fanfare or debate on the idea of banning hats, and the measure passed, becoming the rule in that chamber up until now.