Third Circuit rules Muslim police officer not entitled to wear headscarf on duty

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a female Muslim police officer is not entitled to wear a religious headscarf [JURIST news archive] while on duty. Officer Kimberlie Webb of the Philadelphia Police Department was appealing the ruling [opinion, PDF] of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania [official website] entering summary judgment against her assertions of religious and sex discrimination. The appeals court held that despite having established a prima facie case of religious discrimination, Webb's claim fails because it would unduly burden the city's interest in "maintaining the Philadelphia Police Department uniform as a symbol of neutral government authority, free from expressions of personal religion, bent or bias." The court refused to examine the sex discrimination allegation because Webb failed to submit a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) [official website] prior to filing the claim in federal court as required by law. Webb also introduced constitutional claims for the first time on appeal. The court refused to examine the new constitutional claims, as a new claim can never be introduced on appeal unless failure of an appellate court to hear the new claim would severely undercut justice.

Religious headscarves have become controversial in several Western countries recently, as lawmakers struggle to balance an individuals' rights to practice their religion with public policy and security concerns. In December, a Muslim woman in the US state of Georgia was arrested and ordered to serve 10 days in jail [JURIST report] for contempt of court after she refused to remove her headscarf, or hijab, upon entering a security checkpoint in an Atlanta courtroom. That same month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] unanimously ruled [JURIST report] that there was no human rights violation when a French school expelled two students for refusing to remove their headscarves. In May, a US federal judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST reports] filed by a Muslim woman against a judge who asked her to remove her niqab in court. In September 2007, Canadian chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand resisted calls by Canadian lawmakers [JURIST report] to invoke his discretionary powers to require women to remove traditional Muslim niqabs or burqas when voting in elections in the province of Quebec.

 

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