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Constitutional Law

Judge Sued for Allegedly Requiring Muslim Woman to Remove Hijab

Posted Aug 26, 2009 4:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A Michigan woman and an Islamic civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit against a Detroit judge today, contending that he insisted she remove her hijab, a religious head covering, during a June 16 court hearing about her petition for a name change.

The suit, which names both Judge William Callahan and Wayne County as defendants, seeks a court order prohibiting Callahan and other judges from requiring women in their courtrooms to remove religious headwear. It describes the alleged practice as unconstitutional infringement of their right to practice their religion and to access the courts, according to CNN and the Detroit News.

It appears that Callahan may not have realized that the Raneen Albaghdady's hijab—which he refers to as a "hat" in a court transcript—had religious significance: He says she didn't explain that it did during the hearing; she indicates that she stopped protesting and agreed to uncover her head during the hearing because she was intimidated by the judge, according to news reports.

"Judge Callahan and the court have the greatest respect for spiritual practices and all religious preferences. Had he been informed that the head covering had some religious significance, the judge would have permitted Ms. Albaghdady to continue wearing it in court," says a written statement issued jointly by the judge and the 3rd Circuit Court of Michigan in response to the suit.

A partial video of the incident was posted today on YouTube by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is a co-plaintiff in the suit. The group says that Callahan should have known, after 12 years on the bench in an area with a substantial number of Islamic residents, that a woman's head covering could have religious significance.

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