Woman wouldn’t remove veil in court, evidence rule amendment considered

Ginnah Muhammad is a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab, a head scarf and veil that covers her entire head except for her eyes.

Her refusal to remove it to testify at her small-claims case against a car rental company has prompted the Michigan Supreme Court to consider a proposed amendment of MRE 611.

Muhammad rented a car from Enterprise Leasing. Enterprise charged her for damage to the car. Muhammad responded by filing a small-claims suit to get her money back.

Thirty-First District Court Judge Paul J. Paruk, sitting as the small-claims court, told Muhammad she had to remove the veil before she could testify. The judge said he needed to see her face so that he could better assess her credibility.

Muhammad balked. She told Paruk she would remove the veil only for a female judge.

Paruk dismissed her case without prejudice.

Enterprise, in the meantime, filed a small-claims suit against Muhammad. She removed it to the 31st District Court. This set up another confrontation with Paruk, who is that court’s only judge. Muhammad asked Paruk to recuse himself from the case. Paruk denied the request and awarded Enterprise $2,083 in damages. Muhammad’s appeal is pending in Wayne County Circuit Court.

But it’s not just about the two grand. Muhammad sued Paruk in federal district court. She alleged that Paruk’s insistence that she remove her veil violated her First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and denied her access to the court system. See, Muhammad v. Paruk, 553 F. Supp. 2d 893 (E.D. Mich. 2008).

U.S. District Court Judge John Feikins declined to exercise jurisdiction over the case. But in doing so, he noted that under Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), “the right to free exercise of religion does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability.”

Feikins then explained why he wouldn’t hear the case:

[I]f Paruk has a valid, neutral and generally applicable policy of requiring witnesses to keep their faces visible while giving testimony, that policy would not violate Muhammad’s right to free exercise of her religion. Determining if Paruk has such a policy and, if he does, deciding whether it is valid, neutral and generally applicable would necessitate a detailed examination of how Paruk manages his court room as a state court judge. Conducting this type of review as a federal judge would undoubtably increase friction in the relationship between our state and federal courts. I find, therefore, that respect for the relationship between our state and federal courts weighs heavily against exercising jurisdiction over Muhammad’s declaratory judgment action for violation of her right to free exercise of her religion.

The proposed amendment of MRE 611 would give Michigan judges the framework to create the neutral policy Feikins mentioned:

(b) Appearance of Parties and Witnesses. The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.

A staff comment to the proposed amendment explains:

This proposed amendment would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.

The court is accepting comments on the proposed amendment through April 1, 2009. Send them by e-mail to MSC_clerk@courts.mi.gov or by regular mail to Box 30052, Lansing, MI, 48909.

4 thoughts on “Woman wouldn’t remove veil in court, evidence rule amendment considered

  1. Ms Muhammad is an American citizen, she should not have to remove her religious attire to come into the court to address areas that need to be heard by the court. The level of one’s faith and or practice is personal. As a thinking society we should not have the right to question that level. Living in America has afforded or was supposed to have guaranteed freedom of religion and speech.The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from interfering with a person’s practice of his or her religion. However, religious actions and rituals can be limited by civil and federal laws. There is no law nor should there ever be that a person who dresses in their religious attire should not be allowed to enter the court. What exactly is that limitation, is it telling a religious person that their religious attire is too extreme or not welcome in the courts. Is it telling a religious person they are not allowed to pray in certain areas, what exactly is that limitation and how much limitation is one supposse to accept. We are told that there should not be one religious preferace over another, according to the constitution. We as Muslim women will take our veils off for identification, we will talk with men if need be, we will wear uniforms for jobs, what more do you want from us far short from changing our religion? What harm are we doing in coming into the court with our face covered, we work, shop, visit, go to the library and yes some of us even sat on jury duty. A person should not be judged by the color of their skin or what outfit they wear but by the content of their character.

  2. in response to rashad above, Please give it a rest. first of all I discredit your arguement from the moment you said we as a society “should not have the right to question that level”. As a matter of common sense for a THINKING society we SHOULD have the right to question that level.

    did you Rashad read the article above…. if so you will see that no one barred her entrance into the court as you say they did.

    You shattered your own arguement when you said ” WE AS MUSLIM WOMEN WILL TAKE OFF OUR VEILS FOR IDENTIFICATION.
    Well guess what, that exactly is what the judge wanted to do; identify her and her reaction to the case she has brought forward. how is the judge supposed to know if she is lying if he cant see her.

    by the way how did she get to rent the car? did the service reps not have to see her face to be sure that it wasnt a man hiding under the niqah trying to rent the vehicle with a womans id?

    the whole premise of america is everyone is treated equally so therefore we are not going to have female judges for certain people and all female supermarkets just cos some woman cant buy/checkout her veggies from a male cashier.

    if you like dont wear uniform for jobs….. no one is begging you to get a job. if you cant wear uniform stay home.

    i dont know any law barring prayer in certain areas but if they are, this is a secular society and they would most likely barr christians, budhists and hindus from praying in those areas too.

    Lastly sometimes ones face shows the content of their character and we need to see it esp in court where most people are not psychic. ok get a grip on reality.

    the way i see it if you dont like it here go back to where you can cover it off and good luck trying to sue a judge there.

  3. Joy are you retarded. What does looking at someone face has to do with being able to tell if someone is lying or not. How do blind judges tell if someone’s lying or not? And to your comment go back to where you come from, shows exactly how ignorant you are. Muslims are from all over the world included America. There are Muslims born everyday in America so where do you suggest they go, back up their mothers. America is a land of many freedoms and religion is one. And many people migrate to America so that they can practice their religion freely. But many times ignorant people such as yourself, try to make that difficult. What is wrong with the sister unveiling her self to a female official for identification purposes. I happen to know that sister personally and she wears her face veil everyday, she didn’t just pick court day to wear it, it’s apart of her religious belief. And remember we are in America and it’s her constitutional right to practice her religion as she wishes. Oh, yeah that is why this country was stolen from the natives so that the people who settled here can practice their religion freely after stealing,robbing and killing the people that were already here.

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