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Christian college begins process to remove professor who wore a hijab

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Larycia Hawkins

Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College, caused a stir last month when she donned a Muslim head covering at the Christian school.

Now the Illinois college has begun what’s known as a “Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings” against her.

The associate professor of political science was placed on administrative leave Dec. 15 “to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements, including but not limited to those indicating the relationship of Christianity to Islam,” the school said at the time.

“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the school said. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The school said the action was taken after “Dr. Hawkins declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements.”

It began with a Facebook post

On Dec. 10, just after the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., Hawkins posted a picture of herself on Facebook wearing a hijab. She called it part of her advent worship.

Hawkins began her post saying, “I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.”

“I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay …,” she added. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Hawkins — whose active research projects, according to her official biography, are “the moral framing of the black policy agenda” and “black political churches” — then said that, beginning that night, she would show “embodied solidarity” by wearing a hijab. And she vowed to have it on while on campus, in Chicago, at the airport and in church.

“I invite all women into the narrative that is embodied, hijab-wearing solidarity with our Muslim sisters — for whatever reason,” she added.

“A large scale movement of Women in Solidarity with Hijabs is my Christmas #wish this year.”

President: College supports free exercise of religion

Shortly after Hawkins had been put on leave, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken suggested his school’s stand didn’t simply have to do with someone putting on a hijab.

“The college has no stated position on the wearing of headscarves as a gesture of care and concern for those in Muslim or religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution,” Ryken said. “We support the protection of all Americans including the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

That same day, Hawkins posted to Facebook again. She didn’t spell out her reaction to being put on leave, or what she would do next. But, while expressing gratitude to supporters, she gave no hint of backing down.

“Love abounds. And it is redounding to me in countless ways,” Hawkins wrote. “I am honored and humbled to be loved. To be loved by you.”

Her brief message was signed, “Your sister in solidarity with the hijab.”

The process

Wheaton College says the notice is not a termination but the start of a process for tenured faculty members.

During the process, a committee will consider both testimony and evidence and will make a recommendation to the Ryken regarding Hawkins’ tenure. He will add his own recommendations.

The final decision will be in the hands of the Wheaton College board of trustees.