For 181 years, the U.S. House of Representatives has imposed a ban on its members wearing head coverings. With Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, set to take her oath of office in January, that rule—which would have prohibited her wearing her customary headscarves or the hijab—is slated to change.
On Instagram on Sunday, the Democratic representative from Minnesota posted a screenshot of a Time story announcing the Democrats’ intention to strike down the ban on headwear.
“No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It’s my choice—one protected by the first amendment,” she wrote, adding “This is not the last ban I’m going to work to lift.”
The ban, which was enacted in 1837 for a then all-white male Congress, was meant to prohibit indoor hat-wearing, described by a member at the time as a “really harmless but apparently indecorous practice,” writes NBC News.
The responsibility of enforcing the House dress code falls to the speaker, meaning whoever the Democratic leader is come January can decide whether to permit religious headwear. In practice, members of Congress, their staff and religious leaders have already worn head coverings on the floor, notes NBC, but Omar’s election has drawn additional scrutiny to the rule and the need for a permanent amendment.
As the Washington Post (h/t People) reported on Friday, Omar, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Rules Committee ranking Rep. Jim McGovern drew up a proposal that would legally allow religious headwear on the floor, as well as head coverings due to illness and loss of hair.
The proposal also includes the creation of an independent diversity office and a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Far more than correcting an outdated rule, overturning the head covering ban would help normalize headscarves and the hijab in different sectors of American life, especially at a time when religious discrimination and animus is still present. This summer, a group of Muslim children in Delaware were asked to leave a pool after a manager said they weren’t allowed to swim with clothing on (the problem, officials said, was wearing cotton). As for the House of Representatives, Carolyn Maloney, (D-N.Y.) wore a full burqa in a floor speech shortly after 9/11 to illustrate the dangers the Taliban posed towards women.
Omar is not just one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is the other)—she’s the first black Muslim woman, the first refugee and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota. In January, she will be the only woman in Congress wearing a headscarf, but as the rule change implies, she’s not anticipated to be the last.