(WASHINGTON, D.C., 12/16/08) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a series of incidents in which Muslim women in Georgia were prevented from entering courtrooms because they were wearing Islamic headscarves, or hijabs.
In the most recent incident, a Muslim woman was jailed today following a dispute over whether she could enter the courtroom while wearing her hijab.
According to the woman’s husband, she was seeking to enter the courtroom in Douglasville, Ga., to deal with a matter related to a nephew’s traffic citation. After she walked through the security area, a bailiff allegedly told her she would not be permitted to enter the courtroom wearing her religiously-mandated scarf. Frustrated at being prevented from entering the court, the woman reportedly uttered an expletive and sought to leave the area. As she attempted to leave, the bailiff reportedly handcuffed her and took her to the judge’s chambers where she was sentenced to 10 days in jail for “contempt.”
Members of the local Islamic community told CAIR that there have been at least two previous incidents involving Muslims being prevented from wearing religious attire in court.
One local Muslim woman reported to CAIR that she and her 14-year-old daughter were barred from the same judge’s courtroom last week because they were wearing Islamic scarves.
“We ask the Department of Justice to investigate these troubling incidents to determine whether the women’s civil or religious rights were violated,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. “Judges have the right set standards of dress and behavior in their courtrooms, but those standards should not violate the constitutional right to free exercise of religion or block unencumbered access to our nation’s legal system.”
Last year, CAIR representatives met with city and court officials in Valdosta, Ga., to discuss policies regarding the wearing of hijab in local courtrooms. The meeting was prompted by a June 2007 incident in which a Muslim woman seeking to contest a speeding ticket was barred from a Valdosta courtroom because she wore an Islamic headscarf.
In a letter sent to the Georgia attorney general following that incident, CAIR said the judge’s actions violated the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law.
CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, E-Mail: email@example.com