ATLANTA – A man said he was barred from a county courtroom on Thursday because he refused to remove his Muslim head covering, nearly two years after Georgia's judges voted to allow religious headwear in all state courtrooms.
Troy "Tariq" Montgomery said Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin blocked him from entering his courtroom three separate times to dispute a traffic ticket because he was wearing a kufi, a traditional Muslim head covering. His attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis, said he would soon file a motion challenging the decision.
"I wasn't really upset about being rejected. I just didn't understand it," said Montgomery, a 46-year-old barber. "This country has afforded us freedoms so that we can practice our religion and I was trying to exercise those freedoms."
Chafin's secretary, Jennifer Starr, said the judge would not comment on a pending case.
The dispute draws parallels to a December 2008 controversy that erupted after Lisa Valentine, a Muslim woman, was arrested by authorities in the west Georgia city of Douglasville after she refused to remove her headscarf. The dispute led the Judicial Council of Georgia to vote unanimously in July 2009 to allow headgear in court that is worn for religious or medical reasons.
At the time, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein said: "If this had been a nun, no one would have required her to remove her habit."
Montgomery said he was first blocked by a courtroom bailiff from wearing the kufi in the courtroom on April 1, when he was initially scheduled to appear in front of Chafin for the speeding violation. He returned two weeks later with the council's 2009 policy, but said he still rebuffed.
When he returned on Thursday -- this time with his attorney at his side -- he said Chafin rejected him again and told him to remain in the hallway during the proceedings. His speeding case is still pending.
"There is something fundamentally wrong when you can't have access to the court due to your religious attire," said Davis, who said he plans to file a motion to the court's chief judge.
Montgomery, who considers himself an Orthodox Muslim, said his kufi is a constant reminder of his devotion to his religion. Taking it off in public, even at the urging of a judge, would be a violation of his religious beliefs, he said.
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