December 17th, 2008 19:19 EST
CAIR Seeks Sanctions Against Anti-Hijab Judge in Georgia
State attorney general asked to protect religious, legal rights
A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called on Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker to bring sanctions against a judge in that state who has repeatedly barred Muslim women wearing religiously-mandated headscarves, or hijabs, from entering his courtroom.
Yesterday, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported that a Muslim woman was jailed and then released following a dispute over whether she could enter the judge`s courtroom in Douglasville, Ga., while wearing her hijab. In the past year, other Muslim women have either been jailed under similar circumstances or barred from that judge`s court.
Today`s Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:
Lisa Valentine, also known by her Islamic name, Miedah, 40, was arrested at the Douglasville Municipal Court for violating a court policy of no headgear, said Chris Womack, deputy chief of operations for the Douglasville police.
Judge Keith Rollins ordered her held in jail for 10 days, but she was released Tuesday evening. The reason for the early release wasn`t immediately clear "
Other Muslim women said the same judge has ordered them to remove their hijabs.
Sabreen Abdul Rahman, 55, said she was asked to take off her scarf when she went to the municipal court last week with her son. "I can`t. I`m Muslim,` she mouthed silently to the bailiff, who then removed her from the courtroom, Rahman said "
Halimah Abdullah, 43, said she spent 24 hours in jail in November 2007 after Rollins held her in contempt of court for refusing to remove her head covering. Rollins could not be reached for comment. "
SEE: Muslim`s Scarf Leads to Arrest at Courthouse (Atlanta Journal)
In a letter sent today to Attorney General Baker, CAIR National Legal Counsel Nadhira F. Al-Khalili wrote in part:
We assert that Judge Rollins` actions violate the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct "It is also our contention that a courtroom is a "public facility` under Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and denial of access to the courtroom based on religious beliefs or practices is therefore discriminatory.
In addition, we believe Judge Rollins` actions are in violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law. The United States Supreme Court has held that a state may not infringe upon the free exercise of a citizen`s religious observance absent a compelling state interest.We believe that no such compelling interest exists in these cases.
Judge Rollins` policy of exclusion would prohibit court entry to all Sikh men wearing turbans, all orthodox Jewish men and women wearing yarmulkes or head scarves, all Christian women wearing religious head coverings, and all Muslim men and women who wear skullcaps or scarves "
I would therefore respectfully request that you take appropriate action to ensure that the legal, religious and civil rights of Georgians of all faiths be maintained. I would also request a formal investigation into this matter, sanctions where appropriate, and an assurance that all those wearing religious attire be allowed in state courtrooms. "
A copy of the letter was sent to the Judicial District Professionalism Program of the State Bar of Georgia.
CAIR also contacted the U.S. Department of Justice, which now says it is looking into the case.
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.