Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Michigan Court Delays a Decision on Courtroom Dress and Propriety

The Michigan Supreme Court has delayed a decision in the case of a woman who, dressed in traditional Muslim garb, refused to remove her veil for a judge.
Some stories have couches the issue a bit by stating that “a proposed statewide court rule would specifically let judges regulate the appearance of parties and witnesses.”
I’ve covered cases in courts that disallow t-shirts, jeans and other dressed-down garments, so this simplistic statement is somewhat misleading. The crux of the argument is the term “religious purposes.” Can this defendant wear a veil in court because it is part of her religion?
There have been similar cases in which law enforcement won out, and rightly so – we think of the 2003 Florida case of a convert named Sandra Keller. She refused to remove her veil for an updated driver’s license photo, then litigated with the help of the ACLU and lost it at the state appellate level in 2005.
Then there are the judges who just don’t screw around with this stuff, like this guy in Georgia.
And even our neighbors to the north are not convinced that allowing court participants to cloak themselves is wise. In this Canadian case from earlier this month, a court said that it is at the judge's discretion.
It all provides a good discussion for just how far lawfulness and religious freedom extend. We think that when you partake in the U.S. court system - be it at a local, state or federal level - you play by the rules of the court. And for the record, we dislike most rules.

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