Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Judge In Michigan Faces Hijab Lawsuit

It was just a routine legal matter, a name change that brought Raneen Albaghdady to the courtroom of Judge J. William Callahan in Wayne County, Michigan. The court appearance was anything but routine when according to the Detroit News the judge said "No hats allowed in the courtroom."

As a result of this disregard for the religious sensitivities of Raneen Albaghdady,Callahan is facing a lawsuit sponsored by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations that has been filed with the hope of preventing such incidents in the future.

Albaghdady was not covering her face with a burqa, which would have interfered with seeing her face during testimony. She was wearing a hijab, which covered her hair and left her face completely exposed.

After the 30 second clip which played on You Tube, the woman allegedly said, "It doesn't matter anyhow. " without any reference to religious requirements that it be worn. The secretary to Callahan defended him by saying that he would never ask a woman to remove her hijab. Despite this, the You Tube tape clearly shows that he repeated his request that she remove her head covering and interrupted an attempt by her lawyer to explain her attire. She clearly seemed intimidated by the judge, who did not seem ready to hear an explanation of Islamic customs.

It is hard for me to believe that a judge in Michigan would be ignorant of the range of Muslim customs when there is a large Muslim population in that state. I have heard judges ask people to remove all non religious head covering while in their courtroom. There is a need to establish decor in a court of law. But even a judge has limits. There should be a reasonable effort to accommodate the practices of religious minorities who appear in court. The prejudices or accustomed ways of a judge should not be imposed upon people who are appearing in his courtroom.

The Detroit News quotes Melanie Eturk, who is representing Albaghdady as saying "This judge targeted a Muslim woman's religious attire, but he could just as easily have demanded the removal of a Sikh turban, a Jewish yarmulke or a Catholic nun's habit,"

America has been built by people with differing religious beliefs and cultural norms who were willing to support basic American law and ideals. I hope that Mrs Albaghdady is successful in her lawsuit, which establishes precedents that are of benefit to other religious minorities as well. Defining Americanism within excessively narrow parameters ultimately endangers our American way of life. In case Judge Callahan is not aware of Islamic, Jewish and other types of religious garb, he might want to confer with judges in jurisdictions with greater ethnic diversity that he has experienced already. I hope this suit is settled quickly and amiably.


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