After converting to Islam, a female correctional officer arrived at the prison for her shift wearing a hijab. However, instead of her religious requirement being welcomed by her employer, she was sent a letter straight from the warden’s desk.
Before Jalanda Calhoun converted to Islam, she abided by the strict rules as a correctional officer at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. However, after she became more devoted, she saw no reason why the high-security prison couldn’t simply acquiesce her request to adjust the dress code.
Calhoun made it clear to her employer that she felt the compulsion to wear the hijab, covering her hair, ears, and neck at all times. As such, she requested to wear the head covering while on the job, citing her religious rights. What she received wasn’t what she expected.
According to FOX 5 News, as soon as Calhoun insisted on covering up while on duty, she received a letter straight from the warden’s desk, stating that her request to wear the hijab in the prison had been rejected. Subsequently, Calhoun lamented that she has to use a baseball cap to hide her hair and an extended collar to cover her neck.
“When I first had to remove my hijab, my sisters and brothers just thought it was the craziest thing they ever heard,” says Calhoun. “They just wanted me to push the issue, fight the issue because they knew I was right for what I was doing, and they knew the prison was wrong.”
In the letter, the warden explained that the decision was made because a headscarf could prevent Calhoun from being easily identified, conceal contraband, and could be used to hide the identity of an offender attempting to escape. Oddly enough, he failed to mention that the hijab could easily be used to strangle the wearer, which has long been a concern for employees in safety-oriented environments.
Despite the dangers to herself, her colleagues, the inmates, and the public, Calhoun insists that she should be granted an exemption from the rules. She contacted CAIR, which specializes in suing entities on behalf of Muslim Americans.
“Usually when we see cases like this it’s related to private employers, business, not the government,” says Edward Ahmed Mitchell, attorney and Executive Director of CAIR Georgia, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “You expect the government to understand the law better than anyone else.”
CAIR claims that the warden’s decision violates Calhoun’s constitutional rights and has filed a formal complaint with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. The complaint stipulates that Calhoun be given permission to not only wear her hijab on duty but also to take an extra 10-minute break for compulsory prayer.
On behalf of Calhoun, CAIR asked the Governor of Georgia to step in and force the prison to bend the rules for their client. Instead, the Governor referred back to the Department of Corrections, which seemed to support the warden’s decision.
“The GDC was contacted by the CAIR regarding Officer Calhoun’s concerns, and we attempted to accommodate her to the extent possible given the high-security environment in which she works. We regret that she has found those efforts unacceptable and is pursuing a legal remedy. As of this date, we have not received a copy of Officer Calhoun’s complaint, and therefore cannot speak to its contents.”
CAIR has threatened the Department of Corrections with a federal appeal and lawsuit if they do not give a response to the complaint within six months. For now, it’s looking like the department won’t be meeting her demands.
If CAIR and Calhoun get their way, it will set a precedent leading to all Muslim employees and possibly other religious workers demanding exemption from the rules per their personal beliefs. Such an exemption is not merely an inconvenience but can prove dangerous for countless individuals.