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Religious coalition protests court ruling over wearing head scarf
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Religious coalition protests court ruling over wearing head scarf

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DENVER —- Evangelical, Jewish and other diverse religious groups are supporting a court fight for a Muslim woman who was not hired by a Tulsa store because she wore a head scarf.

The groups have joined a federal agency in asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn its October decision in favor of Abercrombie Kids, the store that would not hire Samantha Elauf.

Elauf wears the head scarf, a hijab, anytime she is in public to represent her Muslim faith.

The appeals court decision "could have a significant impact not just on Muslims in similar 'groom and garb' cases, but on all people of faith," said attorney Todd McFarland, who represents the groups.

They are the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Legal Society, ACLU, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, American Jewish Committee and the Sikh Coalition.

The groups filed "friend of the court" arguments this week asking the Denver-based court to reverse its decision in favor of the store, located in the Woodland Hills Mall.

The federal agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sued Abercrombie, claiming that its failure in 2008 to hire Elauf violated a law against employmentdiscrimination. The EEOC alleged that Abercrombie was required by the law to make a reasonable accommodation for her religious practice of wearing a head scarf.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa ruled in 2011 that the company violated the law. Abercrombie appealed.

The company had a policy barring employees from wearing caps and states the policy encompassed any headwear. Elauf, then 17, wore a hijab to her interview for a sales job.

The 10th Circuit judges decided in favor of the store because "Ms. Elauf never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that she wore her head scarf or 'hijab' for religious reasons and that she needed an accommodation for that practice."

One of the appellate judges dissented, stating that the reasoning by the judges in the majority "makes no sense under the law or the circumstances presented in this case."

The religious groups and the ACLU contend that "recent trends confirm the need to protect religious rights in the workplace. Charges of religious-based discrimination filed with the EEOC have more than doubled over the last fifteen years."

Abercrombie changed its policy three years ago to allow the head coverings, The Associated Press reported in October.

Despite the reported change, the EEOC, the religious groups and the ACLU do not want the reasoning of the 10th Circuit's October decision to remain in effect.

"There is tremendous concern well beyond the Muslim community about the weakening of (the law) that will take place if this ruling is to stand," said Dwayne Leslie, a worldwide official of the Adventist church.

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