ATLANTA — Georgia courtrooms will allow religious headgear after last year's arrest of a Muslim woman who refused to remove her headscarf in a west Georgia courthouse.
The Judicial Council of Georgia voted unanimously this week to allow religious and medical headgear into Georgia courtrooms. It also allows a person to request a private inspection if a security officer wants to conduct a search.
"If this had been a nun, no one would have required her to remove her habit," said Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, who heads the Judicial Council. "I think this is a good rule, and I think it's clear."
The policy shift stems from the December 2008 arrest of Lisa Valentine, who was ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she refused to remove her hijab at a courtroom in Douglasville, a town of about 20,000 people west of Atlanta. She was released in less than a day.
Muslim rights activists were infuriated by the incident, pressing the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident and organizing a protest. The city also said its employees would take sensitivity training classes.
City officials at the time said they were trying to follow courtroom rules that restricted headgear, but the city said the officer who detained Valentine should have sought a solution that "would preserve the spirit of the law."
Valentine, who did not immediately return phone messages Friday, said she was accompanying her nephew to a hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she couldn't enter the courtroom with the headscarf, known as a hijab.
She said she was stopped by officers when she objected and turned to leave, and that she was later brought before a municipal court judge who ordered her held for contempt of court.
City officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment, but Douglasville Police Chief Joe Whisenant characterized the incident at the time as a miscommunication.
The police department said in a news release that Valentine was found in contempt for fighting with one of the officers, not for wearing a scarf. The city said she was released after it was determined there had not been a fight.
Debate over religious headscarves in public places has become common, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
He said the group is also fighting an Oregon proposal that he said reinforces a rule banning public school teachers from wearing religious headgear.
The Michigan Supreme Court decided last week to give judges discretion in controlling the appearance of witnesses on the stand, after a judge told a Muslim woman she needed to remove her face covering, or niqab, so he could determine whether she was telling the truth.
The policy shift in Georgia, Hooper said, is a sign that "America is both diverse and inclusive as a nation."
Source: Associated Press