Officers Can Order Removal Of Veils

June 6, 2009

Author: Lisa Rein

Source: The Washington Post

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has issued a legal opinion allowing security officers to require Muslim women and other people who cover their faces for religious reasons to remove their veils when entering courthouses. Gansler said law enforcement officers could require removing the cloth as long as they enforce a "neutral and generally applicable" standard to all groups.

The guidance had been sought by the Prince George's County sheriff's office and was not related to a specific incident. Security officers said they needed to be able to identify people who enter the courthouse. Gansler's opinion advises that officers take women to be screened in a private area with female officers present and allows the women to wear their veils after being checked.

The opinion has drawn concern from civil liberties groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which said that even if the policy is applied to all people, it was designed for Muslims and so could be discriminatory.

Sgt. Mario Ellis, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said yesterday that the county's diverse religions and population of immigrants have prompted a "proactive" interest in a court policy. Muslim women enter county courthouses from time to time, he said, and have consented to removing their hijab or niqab. The public is not required to present identification before going through metal detectors, he said. "But you've got to be able to see a face" in case someone who enters a courthouse is a witness or victim of a crime or commits one.