Monday, January 14, 2013

Civil Liberties Roundup: Hijabs in prison, flag on the ground

America, America, this is you

Posted by Paul Bowers on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 5:30 AM

A female inmate at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia has allegedly been denied the right to wear a hijab, a head covering worn by many Muslim women.

Nadhira Al-Khalili, national legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says that on Dec. 31, corrections officers forced a woman to remove her hijab for a booking photograph and then did not allow her to wear it while she was incarcerated. CAIR sent a letter to the S.C. Department of Corrections early last week requesting that the agency obey the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act, which protects religious practices in prisons.

The hijab is a matter of modesty, and some Muslims believe that the hadiths, or sayings of the prophet Muhammad, require it. "Hijab is just like any other article of clothing," Al-Khalili says, "so if you asked a woman to take off her shirt, even if other women are taking off their shirts, if she doesn't feel comfortable removing that particular article of clothing, it's going to be a very demeaning and demoralizing experience." In other states, laws make specific accommodations for inmates who choose to wear turbans, yarmulkes, and hijabs, and female corrections officers are allowed to take female prisoners into a private room to search their hijabs for contraband.

Al-Khalili, who wears a hijab, says another South Carolina woman contacted her in the fall when she was forced to remove her hijab in a SCDOR facility, but the woman chose not to pursue legal action. In this case, she says CAIR has not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit. "If the Department of Corrections would just contact us, that would certainly save everyone a lot of time and resources, but we haven't even heard from them yet," she says.

Meanwhile, in the Midlands town of Chapin, a high school English teacher faces termination for stepping on a U.S. flag. Scott Compton, who has taught for 12 years, stomped on Old Glory in his Chapin High School classroom during a lesson about symbols.

According to WIS-TV, students say Compton drew a cross on the board and asked what it stands for, then he took down the flag and asked students the same thing. The school district, Lexington-Richland School District Five, received national media attention when it placed Compton on administrative leave. Superintendent Stephen Hafter recommended last week that the district fire Compton.

A spokesman for the school district told the press, "Our superintendent served in the military. I served in the military for 20 years. Our flag is a symbol of our freedom, and so many people have fought and died for that liberty, and so we take this action very seriously."

Compton's attorney, Darryl D. Smalls, said in a press release that the teacher meant to show that the U.S. is greater than the "material objects that represent it."

"He meant no intentional disrespect to those men and women who served our country or to America itself," Smalls wrote. "Several members of his family served in the armed forces, and they have his total support given all of the facts of the lesson."

A U.S. law known as the Flag Code states that the flag "should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise." The same law also forbids displaying the flag on parade floats (except on a pole), carrying it horizontally ("but always aloft and free"), and using it on athletic uniforms, napkins, handkerchiefs, and advertising.

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