Michigan Supreme Court permits judges to ban religious headscarves

The Michigan Supreme Court has permitted lower courts to use "reasonable control" over the appearance of those who arrive in court, effectively allowing judges to ban certain religious clothing. In an order issued Tuesday, the court amended the Michigan Rules of Evidence, motivated by the 2006 case of Ginnah Muhammad. Muhammad had filed a suit in a Michigan small claims court where she was asked by Judge Paul Paruk to remove her niqab, a form of veil, so he could gauge her veracity.

Muhammad refused, saying she would not take off her veil in front of a male judge, and her case was dismissed. Muhammad filed a federal lawsuit over the incident that was eventually dismissed in May last year. Also Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced that it will file a federal lawsuit against another Michigan judge on behalf of a woman who was asked to remove her headscarf.

CAIR lawyer Melanie Elturk said "the judge's actions contradict both the constitutional right to freedom of religion and President Obama's recent statement in support of the right to wear hijab."

Religious headscarves have become controversial in other states and several Western countries recently, as lawmakers struggle to balance an individual's right to practice their religion with public policy and security concerns. Last month, French lawmakers began considering a plan to ban burqas and other "full veils." In December, a Muslim woman in Georgia was arrested and ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she refused to remove her headscarf, or hijab, upon entering a security checkpoint in an Atlanta courtroom. Also in December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves.

In September 2007, Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers to invoke his discretionary powers to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas when voting in elections in the province of Quebec.

(Published by Jurist - August 27, 2009)


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