US court rules prison can ban headscarf
PHILADELPHIA: Prison officials can ban employees from wearing religious headscarves out of concerns that they pose a safety risk, a US appeals court in Philadelphia ruled on Monday in a split 2-1 decision.
Prison officials have legitimate concerns that the headscarves can hide drugs or other contraband, or be used by an inmate to strangle someone, the majority said. The ruling dismisses a lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three Muslim women employed at the Delaware County Prison in suburban Thornton. The EEOC had said they were being forced to compromise their religious beliefs to keep their jobs.
The suit was filed against the Geo Group, a Boca Raton, Florida-based contractor that formerly operated the facility.
After the prison implemented a ban on hats and headscarves in 2005, nurse Carmen Sharpe-Allen was fired for refusing to remove her headscarf at work. Intake clerk Marquita King and correctional officer Rashemma Moss, agreed to remove their headscarves on the job.
US District Judge John P Fullam had dismissed the EEOC lawsuit, and two of three judges on the appeals panel agreed with him. They called it a close call, but said that the prison’s need for order trumped the women’s right to wear the religious attire at work.
“The EEOC has an enviable history of taking steps to enforce the prohibition against religious discrimination in many forms,” US Circuit Judge Dolores K Sloviter wrote.
In a related case, the US 3rd Circuit ruled last year that Philadelphia police could bar a female officer from wearing a headscarf under her police hat. ap