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CAIR Seeks Clarification on Hijab in Michigan Courts

posted on: Jun 17, 2009

A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today called for clarification of a new administrative rule adopted by Michigan’s Supreme Court that, if broadly interpreted, might allow judges to demand that witnesses remove religious head coverings during testimony in their courtrooms.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that forced removal of religiously-mandated attire such as an Islamic headscarf, or hijab, would violate the constitutional right to religious freedom and would contradict President Obama’s recent statement in support of the right to wear hijab.

In his address to the Muslim world earlier this month in Cairo, President Obama stated: “[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion…That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

“Michigan residents of all faiths need clarification as to whether they will be forced to remove their religious attire in order to appear in a state court,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter.

He said the newly-adopted rule, if interpreted broadly, could also be used against Jews, Sikhs, Christians, and members of other faiths who wear religious head coverings.

The new rule, which was adopted in response to a case involving a Muslim woman, states: “The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.”

Two Michigan Supreme Court judges opposed the new rule, saying there should be an exception for religious attire.

Walid added that CAIR has consistently defended the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves in the workplace, in schools, in courtrooms, and as customers in public venues such as banks. CAIR chapters in Oklahoma and Minnesota recently helped block proposed legislation that would have prohibited wearing hijab in driver’s license photographs.

CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, 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.