Judge: Philadelphia police can bar officer from wearing head scarf

PHILADELPHIA: A federal judge ruled that the city’s police department did not violate the civil rights of a Muslim officer when it forbade her from wearing a head scarf on the job. Kimberlie Webb, 44, who has been on the force more than 10 years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in October 2005 after the department said she could not wear a khimar at work because the religious symbol violated uniform regulations. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday sided with the city and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the police department did not discriminate or retaliate against Webb. “Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia,” Bartle wrote. “Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the city an undue hardship if it had to allow (Webb) to wear a khimar.” In February 2003, Webb told her supervisor that her religion required her to wear the scarf, which covered her hair, forehead, neck, shoulders, and chest. When her request was denied, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jury selected for Padilla trial

An ethnically diverse panel will hear the case against the alleged Al Qaeda operative and two co-defendants. A jury of five blacks, four whites and three Latinos with a broad array of jobs, political leanings and assumptions about terrorism will hear the government’s case against alleged Al Queda operative Jose Padilla. The panel was selected Tuesday after weeks of contentious wrangling among the 15 attorneys representing the government, Padilla and his two co-defendants, with the government and defense teams accusing each other of racial and religious profiling in picking jurors. Padilla, a 36-year-old former Chicago gang member, and two Arabs are accused of conspiring to kill foreign enemies of Islam. The 12 jurors and six alternates will begin hearing testimony Monday in a case expected to last four months and draw witnesses from the intelligence and security communities, including a covert CIA operative planning to testify in disguise. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke excused dozens of potential jurors during the protracted search for a fair and balanced panel because of the hardships they would endure if separated from their jobs or family obligations each workday through the end of August. Anyone with a scheduled vacation, an ill relative needing attention or a child-care conflict was dismissed, although Cooke said she would not sequester the jury. By court order, the identities of the jurors cannot be made public. The seven men and five women expressed varying degrees of willingness to serve on the panel. A delivery dispatcher in her 30s said her boss was furious that she missed one day last week for the questioning. Another juror, a young insurance adjuster, told Cooke that he and his fiance were getting married next month but he had not planned a honeymoon in case he was needed on the jury. “That’s a young man who really takes his civic responsibilities seriously,” Cooke quipped after a day in which juror after juror asked to be excused for far less momentous occasions. Throughout Tuesday’s protracted use of peremptory challenges – 30 for the government and 36 for lawyers representing Padilla and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi – the attorneys repeatedly objected to each other’s dismissals. Defense attorneys noted the prosecution rejected seven black female jurors in a row, while the government team accused the defense of striking white and Latino men in what they saw as a “pattern of prejudice.” Jurors have a range of incomes, from an unemployed former busboy and a department store makeup artist to a software developer. There is religious diversity as well: Catholics, Baptists, a Seventh-day Adventist and one man who said he was intimately familiar with Jewish issues, although he did not make clear if that was his faith. The ethnicity of the panel was a topic of special contentiousness because Miami’s large Latino community includes exiles and emigres who fled repressive governments in Latin America and tend to cast an uncritical eye on the U.S. criminal justice system. But several of the jurors expressed doubts about the consistency and reliability of government and law enforcement work, disclosing run-ins with the law in individual questioning since jury selection began April 16. “There are a lot of people who are incarcerated who shouldn’t be there because they didn’t commit the crimes they are accused of,” said a young black female juror with several relatives on Miami-area police forces. A 40-ish man who is an Internet company chief financial officer told Cooke he thought the growth of Muslim clerical schools in the Middle East had contributed to a trend toward violence in Islam; but he added that “if you go back throughout history, they were one of the more temperate religions for hundreds of years.” “The war in Iraq is for profit and oil, not because of WMD,” a young Latino college student who works for a cable TV company said of the administration’s reason for invading Iraq. A black man of about 50 who manages a chain of service stations and has a nephew serving in Iraq conceded he might have an inclination to stereotype Muslims but assured Cooke he would seek to be fair. “We’re very pleased with the jury that was selected. I think it is a very diverse panel,” said Linda Moreno, a lawyer hired by Hassoun’s defense team to serve as a jury consultant. Moreno helped win a not guilty verdict from a Tampa jury two years ago in the terrorism case brought against Sami Al-Arian, a professor of computer engineering at the University of South Florida. One of the alternates on the panel was born in Egypt and understands some Arabic, but the only practicing Muslim brought before the lawyers Tuesday was dismissed by the prosecution. Assistant U.S. Atty. John C. Shipley told Cooke the government objected to her service because she had read publications from Yemen, Syria and Iran, which he called “renowned terrorist countries.”

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.