Muslim woman told to remove scarf sues Mich. judge

Stephen James Johnson

From The Associated Press

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – A Muslim woman on Wednesday sued a Michigan judge for telling her to remove her headscarf in his courtroom, claiming he violated her First Amendment right to practice her religion.

Raneen Albaghdady, 32, says she felt humiliated when Wayne County Circuit Judge William Callahan ordered her to remove her hijab at a June 16 hearing in his Detroit courtroom. The headscarf, which does not cover the face, is worn by many Muslims in the U.S.

“This is the country and the land of freedom, and we’re not supposed to be treated like this for the scarf,” the Dearborn Heights woman said at a news conference Wednesday at the Southfield headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relation’s Michigan chapter, which joined in the federal lawsuit against Callahan and Wayne County.

A courtroom video of the hearing shows Albaghdady appearing before Callahan wearing a loose headscarf.

“No hats allowed in the courtroom,” Callahan told her.

“This one?” she asked, touching her scarf. “Ah, OK. It doesn’t matter.”

Albaghdady pushed back her headscarf for the rest of the hearing on her request to change her name. Callahan denied the request on technical grounds.

“Judge Callahan and the court have the greatest respect for spiritual practices and all religious preferences,” Callahan said in a statement released by the court. “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.”

Albaghdady, a native of Iraq, said Wednesday she was intimidated by Callahan and feared she would be arrested if she refused to remove her hijab.

“I come from a country where you can’t say no to a judge in a courtroom,” she said.

Some Muslims believe Islamic law requires women to wear a headscarf, veil or burqa in the presence of a man who is not a close relative.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order judges in Wayne County to allow the wearing of the headscarf in court.

Wayne County, which includes Detroit, is home to one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations.

In another situation involving veils, the Michigan Supreme Court voted June 17 to give judges wide authority over the appearance of witnesses. The rule was adopted after a Muslim woman refused to remove her niqab, or face veil, while testifying in a 2006 small-claims case. Hamtramck District Judge Paul Paruk dismissed Ginnnah Muhammad’s case as a result.

Albaghdady appeared before Callahan the day before the state Supreme Court approved the rule. Her lawsuit does not challenge it or address the issue of face veils, said her attorney, Nabih Ayad.

“That’s for a later case,” he said.