In Theory: Freedom of religion at Disneyland

A female Muslim worker at Disneyland, Imane Boudlal, made headlines by becoming embroiled in a dispute with her employer about whether she could wear her hijab, an Islamic head scarf, to her job as a hostess at the amusement park. Boudlal, who has filed a discrimination complaint against Disneyland, was sent home Tuesday for the eighth time after she rejected a third alternative head covering provided by her employer, according to press reports. Disneyland, which has a strict dress code for its employees, had also reportedly offered Boudlal four other assignments that would have allowed her to wear her hijab. Do you think that Boudlal's case for freedom of religious expression in the workplace is a legitimate one, or do you think that the House that the Mouse Built has been wrongly vilified in this controversy?


Conservative Islam is one of the few religions that require specific dress in public, which, few can argue, that when it is "in public" there's not a problem with it. Disneyland is privately owned and hence, can make what dress rules they want. Does one think that Imane Boudlal can walk into a Hooters and demand to wear her hijab at work?

Bruce Gleason

Director, Freethought Alliance


This is a wonderful example of cross-cultural challenges. In a post-modern world such circumstances challenge our customs and require us to figure out ways to accommodate this kind of diversity. It seems that Disney is trying to accommodate this young woman, but the house and the mouse are divided. It must be difficult for Disney to consider changing a dress code that is basically Midwest vanilla to a middle Eastern curry. I suggest that they compare this woman to the living example of "It's a small world after all" and help the people who visit the park see an Epcott-like spirit instead of a "town without pity."

Dr. Jim Turrell

Center for Spiritual Living Newport-Mesa


I am not in favor of religious garb, whether a nun's habit, robe with shoulder bared or hijab, but I believe people should have the right to dress however they wish. Yet, in the work place, employees' rights to religious expression must be balanced by the business interests of employers. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion by employers unless accommodating an employee's religious practices would create undue hardship. It is counter-productive for employees to express their personal beliefs to the public while on jobs designed to create imaginary, themed experiences. Disneyland is theater and many employees are actors required to wear costumes in order to play their parts. Disney tried to "Imagineer" alternatives. In this disturbingly anti-Muslim climate, it should be underscored that the policy should prohibit expression of all religions by Disney employees who deal with the public.

Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Zen Center of Orange County

Costa Mesa


It sounds to me like Disney has bent over backward to accommodate Boudlal, and she needs to decide if she wants the job or not. If she is not willing to abide by the dress code, she should seek employment somewhere else. Disneyland is not a place of worship. She knew that when she went to work there, and she should abide by the rules instead of hiding behind a religious freedom excuse. There are plenty of legitimate issues that people of faith should stand for, but trashing a private company's dress code while being paid to work there is not one of those issues.

I wear a suit and carry a Bible when I preach, and I have done that for 35 years as a part of my religious expression. If I went to work at Disney and they asked me to not wear a suit or carry a Bible while on duty, I would obey my employer because being a good employee is also a part of my religious expression. I believe in the sight of God, my attitude toward my employer might be even more important than wearing a suit. My advice to Boudlal is "dump the hijab or get a different job."

Pastor Dwight Tomlinson

Liberty Baptist Church

Newport Beach


It is improper for this employee to demand extraordinary treatment when her assignment is to faithfully assume a Disneyland role. That the costume fit seamlessly into the fantasy context is vital to the experience of seeing characters come alive. Playing a part in an imaginary vision is compromised by wearing attire that imposes upon the part a theme that is foreign to its integrity and authenticity. Do dramatists allow characters in plays to choose their own outfit for the production? Should an actress's demand to wear a veil onstage be met? I would not consider wearing my yarmulke to be appropriate if I were taking the role of a Disney character, or working within the overall Disney framework. I would not expect my expression of Judaism to be consonant with such employment and would understand the insistence that I work in a non-themed role. But, today, everyone has a grievance.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach


Anyone who has been to Disneyland is aware that those who work there (especially with the public) lose their own identity for a time and take on the identity or role of a character. It has been part of the culture of the Magic Kingdom for 55 years and seems to be working. Dress code requirements are strict and consistently enforced. In this case, the human resources department bent over backward to try to accommodate the woman within reason. Is this all her doing or is there someone else behind her actions? If I as a priest secured employment at Disneyland and after two years decided I needed to don my Roman collar in public while on the job (since it's part of my identity), this likewise would go against Disney's policy and culture, and I would be foolish to expect the company to allow it. I hope Disney stands firm.

Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk

St. Joachim Church

Costa Mesa


As I understand the "facts" of this issue, this employee worked for Disneyland for some period of time without wearing her hijab. Then she requested permission to wear one. Her employer said that the position she was in required a dress code, however, she was offered other head coverings and other positions where the hijab would be acceptable. She rejected all the other options. Suppose she was hired to play the part of "Snow White." Would the hijab be appropriate? In a conflict of this nature, it would appear incumbent on both parties to attempt to find an appropriate compromise. If Disneyland has offered to accommodate her in a comparable position that would not compromise her beliefs and allow her freedom of religious expression, her refusal would seem to be an overt attempt to fuel an artificial confrontation. On the other hand, without knowing all the facts, it could be that her employer was not acting in good faith, refused arbitration, and litigation was her only option. With all that is going on in the world today, we need both sides to do whatever they can to defuse the increasing hostility that threatens to further divide our nation.

Tom Thorkelson

Director of Interfaith Relations

Orange County Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


While almost always in favor of "freedom of religious expression" and having marched in protest of the Disney Co.'s attempts to reduce health-care benefits for behind-the-scene workers, I think that Boudlal has chosen the wrong battle in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Disneyland has offered her "four other assignments that would allow her to wear her hijab," she and her supporters can surely find better ways to encourage our society to be as inclusive, welcoming and mutually respectful as it should be.

(The Very Rev'd Canon) Peter D. Haynes

Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church

Corona del Mar


I was with Imane Boudlal when she attempted to go to work at the Grand Californian last week. I found her to be a faithful and courageous woman. Many have cited Disney's freedom to require their employees to abide by a certain look. This may be true.

However, do we not remember when Disney did not allow black people to work "on stage"? Or when disabled people who didn't measure up to the Disney look of perfection not only were not allowed to work "on stage "but were forbidden to even visit the amusement park? During the time I worked at Disneyland there were certain rides that women were not allowed to work on because they didn't have the right "look" — as though a woman was not capable of leading a safari jungle cruise. A friend from my church whose face was slightly disfigured due to a bad burn was hidden away backstage in costuming, and I cannot help but wonder if it is because he was not sporting the "Disney Look." While Boudlal may have been offered the opportunity to wear her hijab in the back and out of sight, this is offensive to Islam.

The back of the bus might have gotten Rosa Parks to the same stop, but it still did not mean it was right to force her to the back. Yes, Disney is putting on a show. Yes, there are costuming requirements. But she is not asking to play the role of Snow White wearing a hijab. Her head covering would not disturb the "show" at the restaurant she works at. Just as Disney reconsidered its stance on employing African Americans, people with disabilities and women they ought to consider how they can model diversity by allowing their cast members to represent the diversity of their guests who visit the Magic Kingdom. It is because of courageous people like Rosa Parks that the civil rights movement was successful. Rules just do not change on their own. Boudlal's courage will encourage Disney to a more inclusive stance on religious diversity.

The Rev. Sarah Halverson

Fairview Community Church

Costa Mesa

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