US schoolgirl banned over hijab

A Muslim teenager's battle to wear her headscarf to school has landed her in hot water with authorities in the state of Oklahoma.

    The headscarf is a religious obligation for Muslim women

    Education officials in Muskogee have twice suspended

    Nashala Hearn from Benjamin Franklin Science Academy for violating

    school dress code by wearing the hijab or Muslim headscarf.

    The 11-year-old is scheduled to return to school next week after

    her latest five-day suspension, but officials say Hearn will not be

    admitted to class if she continues to wear the scarf

    .

    The school district's dress code bans students from wearing

    hats, caps, bandanas or other headwear inside school buildings, and

    was initially devised to deter gang-related activity

    .

    No exceptions

    Education officials in the town, 200km east

    of Oklahoma City, said they were not inclined to make exceptions to

    the rule on religious grounds.

    "We have to be as neutral as possible with all religious

    requests," said Eldon Gleichman, superintendent of Muskogee Public

    Schools.

    "I can't let the door open for one and not expect the door to be

    thrown open wide for everybody."

    "We have to be as neutral as possible with all religious

    requests.

    I can't let the door open for one and not expect the door to be

    thrown open wide for everybody"

    Eldon Gleichman,
    Muskogee Public Schools

    Hearn's father, Eyvine Hearn, an African-American who converted

    to Islam, is determined his daughter won't back down.

    Controversial debate

    "She's not going to compromise her religion. We can't turn our

    back on God."

    Several heavyweight national rights groups have waded into the

    debate, including the Washington-based Muslim advocacy group, CAIR,

    (Council on American-Islamic Relations).

    "This is a clear violation of the student's right to freely

    practice her faith," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

    He cited US Department of

    Education guidelines

    that say schools cannot bar students from wearing

    headscarves

    during the school day where it is part of a student's

    religious practice.

    Rules

    Muskogee education officials likewise insisted the law was on

    their side.

    "We're just following the rules," said DD Hayes, attorney for

    Muskogee Public Schools, citing a 1995 US Department of Education

    policy.

    However, Hearn's advocates are confident that legal precedent will bear

    them out.

    SOURCE: AFP


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