Sabah Ali decided to spend time with her family at the Commerce City Recreation Center on Sunday afternoon, choosing to swim with her children. However, she was informed that her clothes violated the pool rules.
"Why do I have to be half naked to swim? To enjoy my time with my kids?” she asked, sobbing. "I want to have the same rights as every citizen."
At the time, she was in an “Islamic dress” which covered the pants and shirt she wore underneath.
Rec Center employees directed her attention to the pool rules that state: "specified swimming attire only."
"I told them I would take off the long dress, if that was their concern, and that I had clothes on underneath. But they said if they let me, everyone would ask 'Why did you let them and not us?'" she said.
Michelle Halsted, a Commerce City spokeswoman, stated that the rules prohibiting street clothes in the pool were implemented for public health and safety. She stated that the pool allowed many swimwear options including rash guards and full body swimsuits.
She maintained that the rules were not discriminatory, and that they were equally enforced.
She stated, "The city routinely turns away people who don’t have appropriate swimwear – jean shorts, sport shorts, not wearing swim diapers. We turn all those individuals away because the number one focus for us is safety."
Halstead stated that allowing street clothes in the pool could increase the chances of contamination and waterborne diseases.
However, Ali maintained that she had been allowed in public pools while wearing the same clothes, and there had been no problems.
Civil rights attorney Quasair Mohamedbhai expressed that public places should be careful when making policies to prevent discriminating against those with different religious backgrounds.
"These policies should be reevaluated to ensure that Muslims are included and have full access to the Commerce City Rec Center," Mohamedbhai stated.
Ali eventually chose to rent a hotel room so that she could join her family in the swimming pool. She stated that she wanted her story to be the starting point of a dialogue that would prevent others from going through the same thing she did.
Halsted stated that the city was planning to update its swimwear brochure to include full body swimsuits and burkinis.
"We will also be talking to other aquatic centers about what they do to find a balance between religious exceptions and public safety," she said.