Muslim woman sues judge over veil

A Muslim woman whose small-claims court case was dismissed after she refused to remove her veil sued the judge Wednesday, saying her religious and civil rights were violated. Ginnnah Muhammad, 42, of Detroit, says in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit that Judge Paul Paruk’s request to remove her veil – and his decision to dismiss her case when she didn’t – was unconstitutional based on her First Amendment right to practice her religion. The claim against Paruk also cites a federal civil rights law in alleging that Muhammad was denied access to the courts because of her religion. Muhammad wore a niqab – a scarf and veil that covers her head and face, leaving only the eyes visible – during the October hearing in Hamtramck, a city surrounded by Detroit. She was contesting a $2,750 charge from a rental-car company to repair a vehicle that she said thieves had broken into. Paruk told her he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness and gave her a choice: take off the veil while testifying or have the case dismissed. She kept it on. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. then filed a claim seeking a judgment of $2,000 against Muhammad. A hearing is set for April 18 before Paruk in Hamtramck’s district court. Muhammad’s attorney, Nabih Ayad, said that she unsuccessfully sought to get a different judge to hear the case and that she and her client plan to ask him to remove himself from the case. A message seeking comment was left Wednesday for Paruk. Metropolitan Detroit has one of the country’s largest Muslim and Arab populations. The lawsuit says that because of that, others have either come before Paruk or will come before him. “Thus, future harm is imminent.” “You should be able to be who you are as long as you’re not a criminal or hurting other people,” said Muhammad, who converted to Islam when she was 10 and runs an aromatherapy business in suburban Detroit. “I want to make sure everyone across the board is able to practice their religion freely in a democratic society.” Muhammad said she would have removed her veil before a female judge. “The way I believe in Islam is that a woman is very virtuous,” she said. “We should be covered when we come out. This protects me as well as other people. I believe that God wants me that way.” Michigan law has no rules on how judges should handle religious attire of people in court.