The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) sent a letter last week to John W. Smith, director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), expressing concern about a recent complaint from a man who reported that he was prohibited from wearing religious attire in a Lenoir County courtroom. According to the complaint, the man was ejected from the Lenoir County courthouse on March 22 when he refused to remove his kufi – a knitted skull cap commonly worn by Muslim men.
In the letter, the ACLU-NCLF explains that, if true, the incident violated the man’s constitutional right to freely exercise his religion, and the organization asks AOC to provide public records of all written policies related to protecting the First Amendment religious rights of litigants, witnesses, and observers in North Carolina courts.
“This individual was forced to choose between his right to access the courts and the practice of his religious beliefs,” Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NCLF, wrote in the letter.
According to the complaint, the man, who was observing court proceedings, was not asked to remove his kufi when going through the metal detector at the courthouse entrance, nor was he made aware of any dress code before he entered the courtroom.
However, once he entered the courtroom, the presiding deputy asked him to remove his kufi. He informed the deputy that he was Muslim and wore the kufi in observance of his faith. Without any process or opportunity for redress, the deputy removed this individual from the courtroom and ejected him from the courthouse.
The entire letter can be read here.