A female correctional officer in Georgia recently converted to Islam, and is now surprised that she will not be allowed to wear her hijab while on the job.
Jalanda Calhoun, the Rogers State Prison worker, is asking Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to change the rules and allow state employees to wear clothing that pertains to their religion. I doubt she will get far on that request though. It is matter of safety, rather than inhibiting her religious rights.
“When I first had to remove my hijab, my sisters and brothers just thought it was the craziest thing they ever heard,” Calhoun said, “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.”
The prison isn’t wrong though. The hijab, which covers her hair, ears, and neck can be used by a criminal to conceal his identity in the event of an escape, used to smuggle contraband into the prison, and also prevents her from being easily distinguished as a correctional officer.
“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 Georgia, which says this is a violation of Calhoun’s constitutional rights, filed a complaint with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. It is asking Calhoun be given permission to wear a hijab and take one 10-minute break to pray. The organization notes Muslims are required to pray five times a day.
Calhoun has remained on the job. She’s been covering her neck and wearing a ball cap.
Governor Kemp’s office released a statement that read:
“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.”