(ATLANTA, GA - 5/20/2019) – The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) today announced that its public petition calling on Governor Brian Kemp to overturn the Georgia Department of Corrections' ban on hijabs has received over 5,500 signatures and counting in just three days.
Last Monday, May 13th, CAIR-Georgia filed a discrimination complaint against GDC on behalf of correctional officer Jalanda Calhoun, who has been banned from exercising her constitutional right to wear a hijab in the workplace.
Officer Calhoun returned to work on Friday, May 17th, without her hijab. Per the Department's current policy, she instead wore a GDC-approved cap in order to cover as much of her hair as possible while she waits for a legal victory, or an intervention by Governor Kemp.
Nevertheless, security at the prison demanded that she remove the GDC-approved cap, which would have exposed all of her hair to male supervisors and fellow guards in violation of her religious beliefs. She refused to do so, and the prison eventually relented, instead patting down her head.
In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell thanked the petition signatories and encouraged Governor Kemp to intervene:
"We thank the 5,400 people and counting who have called for Governor Kemp to intervene, lift the Department's ban on hijabs, and guarantee religious freedom to all state employees.
"Elected officials who believe in the importance of religious liberty should put their beliefs into action. Governor Kemp can do so by protecting every state employee's right to wear religious clothing that does not interfere with their job duties, including Islamic hijabs, Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans.
"If wearing a hijab is good enough for the U.S. military, it should be good enough for the State of Georgia."
Officer Calhoun, who first joined the Department in 2015, embraced Islam in January of 2019. She informed the Department of Corrections that she planned to wear a hijab as part of her sincerely religious beliefs, and began doing so shortly thereafter.
After Ms. Calhoun had worn a hijab for three weeks without incident, the Department sent her a letter banning her from wearing a hijab. Among other reasons, the letter states that the "grooming standard for female correction officers requires that your ear lobes must be visible."
The prison warden also told Ms. Calhoun she would not be allowed to stay on-duty unless she immediately removed her scarf.
Under apparent threat of termination, Ms. Calhoun removed her scarf and sought help from CAIR-Georgia. In the weeks afterward, CAIR-Georgia and the Department of Corrections have engaged in negotiations regarding the prison's policy, but were unable to reach agreement.
On May 13th, CAIR-Georgia filed a legal complaint on behalf of Ms. Calhoun against the Department with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, which investigates discrimination at state agencies. Before doing so, CAIR-Georgia sent a letter to Governor Kemp seeking his intervention.
CAIR offers a booklet, called "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," to help employers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in the workplace.
The Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization has reported an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
La misión de CAIR es mejorar la comprensión del Islam, fomentar el diálogo, proteger las libertades civiles, capacitar a los musulmanes estadounidenses, y construir coaliciones que promuevan la justicia y la comprensión mutua.
CONTACT: CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell, 404-285-9530, firstname.lastname@example.org