Under a new rule being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court, judges would be able to restrict what witnesses wear in the court room.
The proposed rule grows out of a 2006 case when a Hamtramck woman had her case dismissed because she appeared in court wearing a niqab and refused to remove it during testimony. The Muslim woman eventually took the case to court and sued the judge, but the lawsuit was dismissed and the state was told to come up with its own rules on the issue.
In response, the Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule change that “would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.”
The rule change is being opposed by both the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is sending a letter to the court saying that the law is discriminatory and that it might cause religious people to avoid going to court.
The ACLU argues that the rule would deny Muslim women access to the court:
In its comment, the ACLU and other groups warn that the court rule threatens to unconstitutionally deny individuals their fundamental right of access to the courts based on their religious beliefs. The groups ask the Supreme Court to add a sentence to the rule ensuring “that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held religious belief.