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Georgia judge reverses decision, permits religious headwear in courtroom

A Georgia state court judge on Monday reversed his earlier decision blocking a Muslim man from entering his courtroom on three separate occasions on account of the man's religious headwear. Troy "Tariq" Montgomery wears a tight-fitting cap called a kufi—a traditional Muslim symbol of humility. Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin originally requested Montgomery show proof that wearing the kufi is required [AJC report]. The Judicial Council of Georgia decided to allow headwear for religious or medical reasons [AP report] in July 2009 following a similar dispute in December 2008 when a Muslim woman was arrested [JURIST report] after refusing to remove her headscarf in court [Times Georgian report]. Montgomery, who is contesting a speeding ticket, indicated he was surprised by the reversal and hopes no one else has to defend wearing Islamic attire in court.

The wearing of traditional religious clothing in court rooms and other public places has been highly contested in the US and around the world. In March, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to review a lower court order requiring a Muslim woman to remove her niqab [JURIST report] while testifying. The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled [JURIST report] that a witness does not have to remove her veil unless the failure to do so will prevent the accused from receiving a fair trial, and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. In December, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLUGA) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman [JURIST report] who was arrested for refusing to remove her headscarf in court. In October, the French Constitutional Council ruled [JURIST report] that a bill making it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa, niqab or other full face veils in public, conforms with the Constitution. Earlier that month, a Dutch politician suggested that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. Last May, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that a Muslim woman's religious rights were not violated by police officers when she was forced to remove her headscarf while being detained in a holding cell. In April 2010, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against a Michigan judge who ordered a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf in court.

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