A city judge in Georgia has in the past eight days barred two Muslim women wearing Islamic headscarves from entering his courtroom, jailing one, and prompting an inquiry from the civil rights office at the US department of justice.
Judge Keith Rollins of Douglasville, Georgia, yesterday ordered Lisa Valentine, 41, to jail after she refused to remove her scarf before entering the courtroom, citing rules governing appropriate dress. Last week, Sabreen Abdulrahmaan was forced to leave Rollins’s court before her son’s probation hearing because she would not remove her scarf.
“It’s a religious right,” Valentine said. “It’s our constitutional right that we can have our religious practices, no matter if it’s a courtroom or not. He’s supposed to be handing out justice, not taking away civil rights.”
Valentine said she sought to accompany her nephew to a traffic hearing yesterday but was told by a court security officer that she could not enter the courtroom with her headscarf on. She said she refused to remove it and turned to leave, saying, “This is bullshit”.
Security officers handcuffed her and brought her before Rollins, who sentenced her to 10 days in jail when she declined to defend her actions at the security checkpoint, her husband Omar Hall said. Valentine, an insurance underwriter, was forced to take off the scarf and don an orange jumpsuit, chained and put aboard a jail bus with men and women.
“It felt like I was naked, because that’s how I feel without my hijab,” Valentine said. “You could have taken off my clothes and it would have felt the same way.”
Her husband phoned an Islamic civil rights organisation and sought an attorney, and she was released without explanation after about seven hours.
“Judge Keith Rollins has inexplicably, blatantly usurped our innate human rights as American citizens,” Hall said.
Douglasville police told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Valentine was jailed for violating a policy barring headgear in the court. Neither court officials nor the police department returned calls seeking comment. Reached by the Associated Press, Rollins declined to comment on Valentine’s case.
“It’s an issue of religious freedom, it’s an issue of access to the American legal system,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil rights advocacy group, which advised Valentine and Hall on the case. “There are all kinds of implications that you can take form this troubling incident.”
The US department of justice is reviewing the matter, according to spokesman Jamie Hais. Hooper said that Eric Treene, special council for religious discrimination at the justice department’s civil rights division, was examining the case.
Valentine’s case was Rollins’s second dispute with a hijab-clad woman in a week. Last week, Abdulrahmaan, a 55-year-old community organiser, went to Douglasville municipal court to observe her son’s probation hearing. Security officers outside the courtroom initially denied her entry, saying Rollins does not allow scarves in the courtroom. She made it into the courtroom, but once inside a bailiff motioned for her to remove her scarf. She told him she was a Muslim, but then left when he started to approach her.
“There are a lot of prejudices here,” Abdulrahmaan said. News of Valentine’s case, “just sent my blood pressure all the way up”.
Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the matter does not merely affect Muslims.
“What if you’re a Jewish man wearing a skull cap? What if you’re a Catholic nun wearing a habit?” Hooper asked. “All would be denied access to this judge’s courtroom. We need to know what’s going here and why this has apparently been going on for so long.”
Courtesy of The Guardian