Mark, I have to dissent from your assertion that “cluelessness” is unlikely to be a factor in A&F’s behavior. You write: “You don’t become a successful retailer by being clueless.” Maybe that’s true in most cases, even if it’s not a universal law. However, while cluelessness is not usually a path to success, success is very often a path to cluelessness. Success begets growth. Growth begets bureaucracy. Bureaucracy begets cluelessness. Major corporations do boneheaded things all the time. Just read the business columns. (Not that small businesses are always smart!)
This especially looks to me like a case of dunderheadedness. It involves those two magical, talismanic words: “company policy.” Corporate bureaucracy loves policy; the bigger the bureaucracy the more policy it will have and the more rigidly it will demand conformity. The more rules there are, the more scared everyone will be to stand up and say “stupid rules were made to be broken.” This is not even sinister! It is simply a by-product of the need to control and coordinate large numbers of people. But it does tend to create foolish behavior in increasingly large quantities as the company grows. This is why economies must not only give businesses the freedom to grow, but also give entrepreneurs the freedom to start new businesses that can challenge the stupidity of the titans.
I’m as concerned as you are about a culture where conformity increasingly means discouraging public expressions of faith. But let’s not paint the picture any darker than it really is.
And, of course, let’s acknowledge that if we support businesses claiming the right to have a religious identity, which I think we should, of course this must mean A&F has the same right to define its identity in a way that is not welcoming to headscarves—unless we can find some jurisprudential ground for distinguishing A&F’s desire not to have employees wear headscarves from that of, say, a Christian employer who finds the scarf demeaning to women.