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Michael Hiltzik: Disney's religious revival

October 16, 2010 | 11:02 am

Perhaps more than any other American corporation, the Walt Disney Co. is both the beneficiary and the prisoner of its own image. As my Sunday column reports, this paradox makes it imperative -- and sometimes difficult -- to identify the right response when a public issue arises.

On occasion, its response has been to deny that any issue exists. That was so in connection with a situation I wrote about in 2003. It concerned Disney's San Francisco talk radio station WSFO-AM, which featured a lineup so heavy with such rabid right-wingers as the egregious Michael Savage that locals had nicknamed it "Sieg Heil on your dial."

Didn't this conflict with Disney's public image? At the time, a Disney spokeswoman pleaded that it was "very unfair to hold Disney to some special standard that says everything has to be right for the Disney brand."

Depends on how you define the Disney brand, one supposes. (Disney eventually sold the radio station, but that transaction appeared to be motivated by economics, not taste.) If the brand stands for tolerance and understanding in a "it's a small world after all" sense, then the effort to find an accommodation with employees seeking to wear their Islamic head coverings on the job should be a no-brainer.

The column starts below.

Readers of the fashion pages — invariably my first stop after checking out the latest in the Snooki Chronicles — will be aware of a breakthrough  that Walt Disney Co. recently achieved in the field of religious couture.

The occasion was the request of two female “cast members” at Disneyland (that’s “employees” to you and me) to wear the Islamic hijab, or head covering, on the job. One of these cases remains unresolved at this writing, but in the other, the company accommodated Noor Abdallah, 22, by designing a hijab that both met her religious standard of modesty in dress while blending with the uniform — excuse me, “costume” — she wears to her job in the Disneyland box office in Anaheim.

The process wasn’t as smooth as it should have been. When she declined to remove her hijab during working hours, Abdallah’s supervisors initially tried to reassign her from Disneyland’s ticket sales windows to a stockroom job out of sight of parkgoers.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik