Members of the 116th Congress were sworn into office on Thursday, many of them women of color who made history by being elected. Among them was Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who — alongside Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib — became one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress. On Friday, Omar applauded the House of Representatives for lifting its head coverings ban after 181 years, so that elected officials can now wear them on the House floor for religious reasons.
According to the Rules Committee's website, the House voted Thursday to pass a rules package that included several provisions designed to “restore inclusion and diversity" in the chamber. The package, which passed 234 to 197, not only lifted the House's ban on head coverings, but also created a diversity office and financial services subcommittee to better "reflect Members and the districts they represent."
Until it was lifted on Thursday, the House's ban on head coverings had been in place since 1837, The Washington Post reported. Per the House historian's website, the ban was instituted in part so that men in the chamber would not wear their hats on the floor, thereby distinguishing them from the British House of Commons.
But back in November, Democratic leaders proposed a change to the rules in order to accommodate Omar, who wears a headscarf. On Thursday, this new rule officially passed, stipulating that head coverings for religious reasons are now permitted on the House floor. The rule change clarifies, however, that nonreligious headwear and hats are still not permitted.
In response to the House's new rules package, Omar took to Twitter to celebrate the change, which she co-authored with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern. She then went on to call for inclusion in all federal policies.
"Yesterday, Congress voted to lift a 181 year ban on headwear to make the #116thCongress more inclusive for all," Omar tweeted on Friday. "I thank my colleagues for welcoming me, and I look forward to the day we lift the Muslim ban separating families all over the U.S. from their loved ones."
Omar — whose family first arrived in the U.S. 23 years ago as refugees from Somalia — was referring to President Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban, which has restricted travel into the U.S. from multiple Muslim-majority countries. Somalia appears on the list of countries impacted by the ban, as do Libya, Syria, Iran, and Yemen, and the Supreme Court upheld the revised ban last summer.
Omar is part of a historically diverse class of freshman officials, The Guardian reported; many of her Democratic colleagues also shattered records by being elected to Congress, and have paid homage to various cultures and traditions. Tlaib, for example, became the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, and donned a traditional Palestinian gown — called a thobe — to her swearing-in ceremony. New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, meanwhile, became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, and she wore a traditional Pueblo dress when she took her oath of office.
The increased diversity of the new Congress has compelled lawmakers to push for a more inclusive atmosphere moving forward. In addition to ensuring religious expression on the House floor and accommodating the diverse needs of elected officials, the House's new rules package also explicitly bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.