CIOGC joined elected officials and community leaders on July 13, at Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview to urge Governor Bruce Rauner to sign the Religious Garb Bill (SB1697). The bill, which the Governor must sign or veto by the end of August, would protect an employee’s right to wear any articles of religious clothing, or facial hair, in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.
The press conference was organized by State Representative Theresa Mah, of the 2nd District of Illinois, and included Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins representing the 16th District, Representative Will Davis of the 30th District, officials from the Office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Rabbi Michael Balinsky of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, Oussama Jammal, President of The Mosque Foundation, members of Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and CIOGC Executive Director G. Abdullah Mitchell.
Collins opened the conference by reciting the words of the first president of the United States, George Washington, who wrote, ““The United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Collins went on to say “[This legislation] shows that from the very foundation of our country, our forefathers declared that it is the duty of government to protect all Americans. And while this is comforting as a black woman who witnessed the civil rights movement, I can say two things. First, it is never that simple, and it requires each and every one of us to push always for a democracy that lives up to those ideals.
Sometimes that means regulations that safeguard people from discrimination and their prejudices. Discrimination is used to deny opportunities to certain groups and to isolate them. Fighting prejudice isn’t as simple as getting a bill signed into law. But prohibiting discrimination, protecting opportunity, and supporting each American’s God given rights, is the first small step in fighting prejudice.”
Jammal echoed Collins’ statements, “The core value of our Constitution is to protect the religious rights of its citizens. And therefore, we are thankful for the Senators and the Representatives and all the legislators who are going to support this bill. And we call upon our fellow citizens to support it as well, and to call their representatives and Governor Rauner to sign this bill into law.”
Chief sponsor of the bill in the Illinois House, Representative Theresa Mah, explained the bill in detail. “This is a bill that amends the Illinois Human Rights Act and provides that an employer cannot require a person to violate or forego sincerely held practice of one’s religion including the wearing of any attire or facial hair. The Illinois Human Rights Act already provided some protections for public and private employees of 15 or more, but despite existing laws, it was important to have on the books more specific provisions protecting employees from systemic workplace discrimination, more specific laws were necessary to safeguard the rights of individuals to represent themselves in accordance to practices of their faith without fear of loss of employment opportunities. With this bill, we are asking the Governor to sign it into law so that individuals should not have to worry that their commitment to religious observance does not compromise their ability to seek or retain employment.”
Mitchell pressed the Governor to support equal treatment of Illinois citizens. “We’re talking about a fundamental right of people to be free from discrimination in the workplace. We know in the climate that we are currently living in the United States where people of the Islamic faith, Muslims, where religious garb is a significant expression of faith that it is necessary that this legislation be signed into law by the Governor. It is not a question of asking for preferential treatment, it are asking for fair treatment for all people regardless of their religious beliefs. I ask everyone to join in, call the Governor, remind him, inform him, extol him, to sign in fairness in the state of Illinois.”
Rabbi Balinksy, shared how the bill would not only protect religious observers, but that it recognizes the diversity of religion in United States. “This is a bill we can support not only for the reasons that have been explained because of fear of discrimination, which is perhaps the most compelling reason, but this bill is also an opportunity I thin, that reflects and can even celebrate the diversity of religious life in America. By giving expression to peoples garb in the workplace as they fulfill their responsibility to the workplace is an expression of the diverse nature of American society in which people can work together and be as one together in their workplace even as it celebrates their diversity. Secondly, there is also a real sensibility of this bill. The bill recognizes that there may be situations where safety and issues of sanitation for any particular reason of health are also recognized as compelling factors in the workplace. [This bill] gives positive expression to religious life in America.”
Co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Will Davis, State Rep 30th district from the south suburbs, “Dr. MLK often spoke about how we should judge an individual not by color of their skin but more about the content of their character. That kind of statement can be extrapolated to say that we shouldn’t judge an individuals by the clothes that they wear, by how they fix their hair, we should be recognizing how an imp an individual is as they contribute to their employer and the workplace, not so much about what they’re waring or how they’re dressed. Governor Rauner swore an oath to the Governor of Illinois and all of its people. This is the kind of legislation where he can demonstrate his support for everyone in the state of Illinois regardless of who you are, color of your skin, race, or religion.”