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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Women under wraps?

Is the U.S. Air Force violating women's religious freedoms by requiring female military personnel in Saudi Arabia to wear an abaya, a black head-to-toe robe, when they go off base?

Lt. Col. Martha McSally says "yes." The top female fighter pilot in the Air Force has filed a lawsuit challenging off-base policies for women that include wearing an abaya, not leaving the base without a male escort, and sitting in the back seat of a vehicle.

McSally says the policy undermines her authority as an officer and sends the false impression that she believes women are subservient to men.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization helping McSally with the lawsuit, says, "Neither the U.S. State Department nor the government of Saudi Arabia requires American service members to wear traditional Muslim attire for any reason. In fact, the Saudis don't require non-Muslim women to wear the abaya at all ....

"At the same time, American military and political leaders are calling for the liberation of Muslim women in Afghanistan, the military has refused to end a policy that denies American servicewomen their basic human rights to be free of religious and gender discrimination."


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