Bar Exam Revises Headwear Policy After Hijab Incident

After a proctor asked a test-taker to remove her hijab during the bar exam, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners changed its policy regarding its approval process for headwear.

As reported, law graduate Iman Abdulrazzak received approval before the bar exam to wear her hijab during the test, as required by the exam’s security policy in July.

However, in the morning session of the 16-hour test, a proctor passed Iman this handwritten note:

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Iman told reporters the interruption caused her considerable confusion and frustration, though she was able to receive official approval (again) during the lunch break.  

Various news sources reported the incident, and a plethora of commentators chastised the board over the discriminating nature of the policy. The exam board then revised the policy, which now allows headwear worn during the exam for “religious reasons or reasons of medical necessity only.”

In addition to apologizing to Iman, the Executive Director of the exam board told reporters that “the decision to change the policy was an easy one to make.”

But if it was “an easy one to make,” why did it take this outrageous incident to elicit change? After all, requiring an anxious test-taker to jump through an approval process seems constitutionally questionable under the First Amendment’s right to free exercise of religion.  With any luck the issue is resolved, at least in Massachusetts. 

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Police Allegedly Remove Girls’ Hijabs in a Bronx Park

On Monday night, NYPD officers reportedly detained four teens in a Bronx park, and during the process, the officers forcibly removed two Muslim girls’ hijabs.

Sisters, 12-year old Lamis and 14-year old Khalia, were playing at their neighborhood park when two officers told the girls to leave. As reported, when the teenage girls went to exit the park, the officers followed and attacked them, forcefully bringing them to the ground. While on the ground, the officers “ripped off” both of the girls’ hijabs.


In an attempt to come to the girls’ aid, their brother and a young college student, who tried to film the incident, were also violently detained.

A police source said that the children were “acting disorderly” as they left the park and that the college student grabbed one of the girls from the “escorting” officers.

Regardless of the truth of that account, the fact that the officers removed the hijabs proves problematic for the NYPD. First, it leads one to question underlying intent of the officers for targeting these young girls. Second, the officers’ unconsented removal of the girls’ religious attire is an assault on the girls’ religious expression, and the vehement acts may be a violation of the girls’ First Amendment rights to both free speech and free exercise of religion.  

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Retailer Removes Feathered Headdress After Customer Complaints

This month, popular clothing retailer H&M removed faux feather headdresses from their shelves in Canada. As reported, a spokesperson for H&M said three customers complained that the headdresses were culturally insensitive, prompting the company to remove the product.

One H&M customer explained her complaint to reporters: “Headdresses are a sign of respect and leadership … You wouldn’t find a colorful hijab or a colorful yarmulke on the shelves as some sort of fashion accessory to wear out to a nightclub or to a music festival.”

article-0-1B390806000005DC-272_634x535Online reaction to the news has varied — some see the accessory as a harmless nod to aboriginal culture, while others rebuke H&M as cheapening the First Nations’ heritage in order to make a quick buck, essentially profiting off a people’s history and traditions by turning them into an aesthetic movement.

H&M is not the only company to receive negative press over offensive appropriation of indigenous peoples’ culture. In the last two years, several large retailers, including Victoria Secret and Forever 21, have elicited outrage over insensitive use and mockery of Native American traditions and symbols.


In 2011, the Navajo Nation brought legal action against retail giant Urban Outfitters for the use of “Navajo” to sell its products, or as Sasha Houston Brown of the Santee Sioux Nation wrote, a “mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor.” Brown and the Navajo Nation argued that items like the “Navajo Hipster Panty” were trademark infringement and violate the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which prohibits one from falsely representing an item as made by Native Americans.

Given the popularity of the trend and a long history of exploitation of indigenous cultures and histories, it is unlikely that H&M will be the last to receive the charge of cultural insensitivity. But perhaps there is recourse through the legal system in addition to publicly shaming such companies for their serious fashion faux pas.

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Knitting Towards Freedom: High Fashion and Prison Labor in Brazil

Incarcerated men in Brazil are knitting high fashion clothing pieces to receive reduced sentences.

As reported, when her knitted fashions became popular, designer Raquel Guimaraes sought an alternative source of production to fill her orders — she contacted a maximum security prison in Brazil.

Guimaraes originally proposed that incarcerated women could knit her designs. The prison’s warden, however, suggested that the incarcerated men would be better suited to produce the high fashion clothing.


As one journalist writes, Guimaraes and the warden were gambling on “whether men imprisoned for offenses such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, and murder, could learn to knit tricot.” And indeed, MSN News reported the story with the headline Your expensive handmade cardigan might have been knitted by a murderer.

But the ‘gamble’ seems to have payed off for the two.

Guimaraes has so far taught eighteen prisoners to work on her clothing line. As a ‘reward’ for their labor, the incarcerated men receive ‘extra money’ and their sentence is reduced by one day for every three full days of work.

Though the program is touted as a reintegration tool, the underlying point is for Guimaraes to sell the pieces as ‘handmade’ high fashion knits across the world, including in New York and San Francisco, for a profit. The prices do not reflect the inexpensive and often exploited labor pool from which the knitted designs were produced.  

A photojournalism piece of the prison labor program can be found here.

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“Naked American Hero” Not Guilty

As reported, frequent flyer John Brennan took a stand against the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) when he stripped naked at a Portland airport. He was subsequently arrested and charged with public indecency under Oregon law.NewImage52

At his trial, Brennan argued that his nudity was protected free speech because it was a protest against the TSA’s invasive measures. Brennan said that “as a citizen and supporter of the U.S. Constitution, [he] was doing the right thing.” Indeed, the act of protest earned him internet fame as Portland’s “Naked American Hero.”

Unimpressed, the prosecutor argued that Brennan’s nudity was not protected as free speech because Brennan did not voice his complaints before he stripped nor had he any written message. Moreover, the prosecutor warned that if Brennan prevailed, then “any person naked for any purpose will be able to say it was protected speech.”

The Circuit Court Judge, however, ultimately agreed with Brennan that he was engaging in protected expression.

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Idaho GOP Elicits Outrage with Tutu Comment

On Tuesday, Idaho republicans passed a resolution asking the state legislature to effectively override local city ordinances that ban discrimination against LGBTQ persons in employment, housing, and elsewhere.

In support of the proposal, prominent GOP member, Cornel Rasor made national headlines when he said,

“I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu … he’s not producing what I want in my office.”

Outrage aside, Mr. Rasor’s comments clearly show a conflation of sexual orientation and gender identity – that certain clothing signifies a particular sexual orientation, and conversely, that one’s sexual orientation mandates gendered dress choices. Dress, given its public visibility, is often a locus for such a conflation.  However, one wonders what Mr. Rasor might do if a female worker came to the office attired in a tutu.


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Male Students and the Right to Wear Make-up

Two Florida Parents have started an online petition after their teenager was ‘bullied’ by his principal for wearing makeup to school.

14-year old Chris Martin attended his last day of 8th grade wearing eye makeup, lipstick, and a shirt with an anarchy symbol. Shortly after arriving at school, however, administrators asked Chris to change his shirt and remove his makeup because they violated the school dress code.

As reported, Chris wore the makeup as a mark of finally being able to be himself after battling with the effects of bullying. But ultimately, his act of self-expression ended in a trip to the principal’s office and a call to his parents.

Though his parents found the principal’s request to remove the t-shirt reasonable, they did not understand why Chris had to remove his makeup, noting that makeup isn’t even mentioned in the school dress code.

800px-Brown_eye_shadow_paletteOne of Chris’s moms told reporters that during the meeting, the principal remarked, “boys wearing makeup is unnecessary,” “a distraction,” and that it is “ridiculous to even ask the question.”

Because of those comments, Chris’s parents linked the administration’s concern with their son’s makeup to his sexuality. Subsequently, they created an online petition directed to the School Board that shames the administration and rallies for LGBTQ tolerance. The petition now has over 10,000 signatures.

Whether the principal sought to ‘bully’ on sexual orientation, regulate gender expectations, or simply squash ‘punk’ dress determines the constitutional contours of the ability to punish Chris for wearing makeup.

But self-advocacy rather than constitutional litigation may be more effective in this situation — In the online public forum, the parents and student have already reached a vast audience, calling a community’s attention to the incident, and demanding remedy for Chris and others.

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Off-duty Officers Don Uniforms for Exxon

Authorized by their departments, police officers are wearing their official uniforms while moonlighting for Exxon in response to a recent oil spill. Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline runs from IllinoisAR Oil Spill 2 to Texas, carrying more than 90,000 barrels of crude oil per day. On Friday, March 29, a leak in the pipeline flooded Mayflower, Arkansas, with thousands of gallons of oil, requiring the evacuation of 22 homes and wreaking havoc on the environment.

The oil giant’s response has prompted various ridicule, including Rachel Maddow’s jabs for its use of paper towels in the cleanup and Stephen Colbert’s satirical mockery of the fairly effective efforts to create “press blackout” (see for example, threats of arrests made to reporters).

Additionally, the cleanup effort raises a novel issue — as reported, Exxon now employs “at least 19 local law enforcement officers in uniform as security guards” during their off duty hours.

One official was reported saying that Exxon requires the off-duty officers to wear their police uniforms, while an Exxon spokesperson told reporters that “whether an officer wears the uniform is up to the individual.”

Cop_Exxon_oil_spill_Lake_Conway.png.492x0_q85_crop-smartThe Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association told reporters that if the officers’ department approves then “officers are allowed to wear their uniforms, even when off duty and working for a private company.”

Some argue, including local County Judge Allen Dodson who is helping to oversee the efforts, that police officers are performing similar services for Exxon as when on duty — providing protection and helping the community. Others, however, are concerned about potential conflicts of interest (including those threats of arrests made to reporters).

While officers may not have a First Amendment right to wear their uniforms when prohibited by the department, wearing a uniform imbued with state authority in service of a private company complicates matters, including raising questions of state action in light of any foreseeable constitutional claims.

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Marine Dress Blues

800px-Defense.gov_News_Photo_090522-N-8395K-001This June,
Wisconsin high school senior Mac Hamlin might not participate in his high school graduation because school administrators have not sanctioned his desire to don his marine dress blues during the ceremony — a deviation from the traditional cap and gown dress code.

The Hudson School District released an official message about the School’s rumored denial of Hamlin’s wish to wear the uniform. According to the release, the Principal has responded to individual inquiries about the dress code “based on long standing past practice and what the high school ceremony represents – a culminating successful accomplishment of required work during the high school years.” The release suggests if Hamlin were to make an official request, it would be considered in light of its affect on “all future graduation ceremonies.”

In 2010, a similar situation occurred in South Dakota when graduating senior Aloysius Dreaming Bear formally requested to wear traditional Lakota dress to his graduation ceremony. All ten members of his graduating class were Lakota, and nine of them formally supported Dreaming Bear’s request (with one somehow unaware of it), recognizing it would be symbolically powerful and meaningful to them as a community.

Nevertheless, the Principal and school board rejected Dreaming Bear’s request, saying they valued the universal meaning of the traditional cap and gown as “‘academic measures of recognition’ … symbolic of the unity of the 2010 graduating class.” Determined, Dreaming Bear sought a preliminary and permanent injunction against the school board and school district for violating his right to free speech under the 1st Amendment.

The District Judge rejected Dreaming Bear’s claim. Although noting Dreaming Bear’s admirable intentions, the Judge decided that the graduation ceremony was “not a public forum open to public expression of speech” as it is a school sponsored event. The Judge also noted that graduation was for the school and community as a whole and that the traditional cap and gown “is part of the very fabric of the academic experience throughout the nation.”

The Marine Corp’s response to Hamlin’s situation in Wisconsin reflects a similar nod of respect for the time-honored cap and gown. But Hamlin seems to take a similar stance as Dreaming Bear, telling reporters “If I’m not going to be able to wear my dress blues, I’m just not going to walk … It’s not about the clothes, it’s about the principle.”

If Marine Hamlin were to seek an injunction like the Lakota Warrior, it would be interesting to see how the court would consider the school’s refusal to sanction the student’s expression of free speech in the context of a military uniform. But it is unlikely Hamlin would need to take such action, because political pressure from the community has proven to be effective in the past for young servicemen and -women who want to receive their diplomas in their newly acquired uniforms.

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NYC Challenges Right of Store Owners to Impose Dress Code on Patrons

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) has filed complaints against seven Jewish Orthodox-owned stores in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for their conservative dress codes — codes for patrons rather than employees. 

sanders_bakeryThe complaints, including one against Sander’s Bakery (pictured), allege that the stores’ policies violate New York City’s Unlawful Discriminatory Practices Law, proscribing businesses from denying patrons “the advantages, facilities, and/or privileges of a public accommodation based upon their gender and creed.”

As reported, CCHR spokespersons have suggested that these modesty codes not only unlawfully discriminate against women, but also impose religious beliefs on others. Various advocates for the store owners argue that the posted policies of “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store” are permissible.  After all, they do not make any explicit gender or religious classifications.  And indeed, there are many establishments that have policies such as “no shoes, no shirts, no service.”

But the geographic location in this section of  Williamsburg does have a particular valence.  Two years ago, Williamsburg’s Hasidic community made news for illegally posting signs that requested women to step aside when men approached them on the sidewalk. Around the same time, local businesses started publicly adopting dress codes as a push by Williamsburg’s “modesty patrol”, who wish for Jewish businesses and community members to conform with traditional standards of dress and discretion between the genders. Some have commented that such public activism within the community is a desire to differentiate themselves from the neighborhood’s rapidly increasing popularity with younger, more liberal crowds.

As the CCHR suit moves forward, it will certainly be one to watch.  It could have far reaching consequences regarding government’s ability to eliminate dress codes for patrons in stores as balanced against the rights of religious owners of commercial establishments to dictate the apparel of their customers.