Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Legal Insensitivity to Religious Customs

I just read the following from the Associated Press. A judge in Georgia jailed a Muslim woman who refused to remove her head scarf in court. The court rules are that no headgear is allowed at all, which would, in this case, create a religious violation.

Ga. judge jails Muslim woman over head scarf
By DIONNE WALKER, Associated Press Writer Dionne Walker, Associated Press Writer
19 mins ago

ATLANTA – A Georgia judge ordered a Muslim woman arrested Tuesday for contempt of court for refusing to take off her head scarf at a security checkpoint.

The judge ordered Lisa Valentine, 40, to serve 10 days in jail, said police in Douglasville, a city of about 20,000 people on Atlanta's west suburban outskirts.

Valentine violated a court policy that prohibits people from wearing any headgear in court, police said.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations urged federal authorities to investigate the incident as well as others in Georgia.

"I just felt stripped of my civil, my human rights," Valentine told The Associated Press on Wednesday from her home, after she said she was unexpectedly released once CAIR got involved. Jail officials declined to say why she was freed.

Municipal Court Judge Keith Rollins said that "it would not be appropriate" for him to comment on the case.

Last year, a judge in Valdosta in southern Georgia barred a Muslim woman from entering a courtroom because she would not remove her head scarf. There have been similar cases in other states, including Michigan, where a Muslim woman in Detroit filed a federal lawsuit in February 2007 after a judge dismissed her small-claims court case when she refused to remove a head and face veil.

Valentine's husband, Omar Hall, said his wife was accompanying her nephew to a traffic citation hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she would not be allowed in the courtroom with the head scarf, known as a hijab.

Hall said Valentine, an insurance underwriter, told the bailiff that she had been in courtrooms before with the scarf on and that removing it would be a religious violation. When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.

So, basically, because of this court's procedural customs, these women cannot get a fair hearing. Sometimes it seems the law, or at least this particular court's procedure, gets in the way of justice.


Ron Rollins said...

Wait, she claims her religous right were violated, and then curses the baliff?

When you lose your religon, don't you lose the right to claim it for your purposes?

Seems very hypocritical to me.

Jared Calaway said...

Did she "lose" her religion? Simply cursing the bailiff means losing religion? I certainly doubt it. Religious people curse all the time--their curses are the most effective! ;)

HOWEVER, cursing the bailiff might be more secure grounds for contempt than the non-removal of a headscarf.

At the same time, as the article as a whole explains, this seems to be an ongoing problem with this particular court. Thus, this woman is the most recent one.

Liam said...

Cursing the bailiff is an unwise reaction to a terrible situation.

She is suffering from nothing less than racism (understanding, of course, "race" as a cultural construction of "the other."

Anonymous said...

Did she cuss at the baliff or just say a 4-letter word out of understandable frustration? And, since when does cussing get a citizen hauled in front of a judge?

Thanks for posting on this.

Anonymous said...

I believe that there is some kind of issue with the court, as they have exhibited that kind of behavior before. But one of the tenants of Islam is adherence to authority, and respect.

The baliff doesn't make the rules, he is just required to enforce them. By cursing (as stated in the original post), she "lost" her religion. Its an expression, not a statement of fact.

So, my original question was; how does she justify the position she was discriminated against on the basis of her religion, then turn around and disregard her religon through her actions and words.

That's a hypocrite.

And if its okay for religous people to curse, why are they up in arms over the language on television programs? It just words they use themselves.

Jared Calaway said...

I still do not think that saying an expletive is grounds for denying someone their rights to religious expression, or, here more exactly, violating someone's religion to appear in court. For her, clearly, uttering a little word was a very very minor infraction, if it was an infraction, compared to the major offence of forcing her to remove her headscarf in court. I think HebrewandGreekreader was probably right--it was a mere matter of frustration at this particular court's procedure.

Again, it appears to be a systemic problem with this court that they cannot absorb non-Christian customs. It needs to update with the increasing religious diversity both between and within groups in its community, so that it can do what it is supposed to do, dispense or preserve justice rather than discriminate against people with different religious customs, which is inhibits justice.