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Published: Thursday, 8/27/2009

Muslim woman sues judge who banned head scarf


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - A Muslim woman sued a Michigan judge yesterday for telling her to remove her head scarf in his courtroom, saying he violated her First Amendment right to practice her religion.

Raneen Albaghdady, 32, said she felt humiliated when Wayne County Circuit Judge William Callahan ordered her to remove the scarf at a June 16 hearing in his Detroit courtroom.

The scarf, which does not cover the face, is worn by many Muslim women in the United States.

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

"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 yesterday at the Southfield headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relation's Michigan chapter. It joined in the federal lawsuit against Judge Callahan and Wayne County.

A courtroom video of the hearing shows Ms. Albaghdady appearing before Judge Callahan wearing a loose head scarf.

"No hats allowed in the courtroom," Judge Callahan tells her.

"This one?" she asks, touching her scarf. "Ah, OK. It doesn't matter."

She pushes back her scarf for the rest of the hearing on her request to change her name, which Judge Callahan denied on technical grounds.

"Judge Callahan and the court have the greatest respect for spiritual practices and all religious preferences," the judge 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."

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

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

"I come from a country where you can't say no to a judge in a courtroom," she said.

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

Acting on a case in which a Muslim woman refused to remove her face veil while testifying in a 2006 small-claims case, the Michigan Supreme Court voted June 17 to give judges wide authority over witnesses' appearances.

Ms. Albaghdady appeared before Judge 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.

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