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Yarmulkes in the Courtroom

The following is taken verbatim from United States v. James, a Seventh Circuit decision handed down on May 14, 2003 [which may be found at ]

"Although Jamesís conviction and sentence are free of error, one additional matter requires comment. Several spectators came to court wearing hats. The judge directed them to uncover their heads:
THE COURT: I note there are quite a few people here. As a matter of respect for the Court, the dignity of the Court does not allow any head- 8 No. 02-3424 dresses, so individuals wearing any type of headdresses will be asked to leave now or remove them. Also, no hats, no skull caps, nothing like that is permitted. Did you folks hear me in the back?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: This is my national headdress and also a part of my religion. THE COURT: Maíam, that is not allowed in this courtroom. You are welcome without it, so please leave until you can take it off.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: If Jews were to come in hereó
THE COURT: Jews will not wear yarmulkes. I am Catholic and the Pope would not wear a miter. Please leave, take it off and come back in, or do not come back in, the choice is yours. Counsel for James contends that the district judge violated the first amendment by excluding from the courtroom any spectators whose religious beliefs require them to cover their heads. Because James himself did not seek to wear any form of head covering, he lacks standing to raise this contention. None of the spectators was held in contempt, and none has sued seeking a declaratory judgment. But although this appeal does not present an Article III case or controversy on this issue, the judicial branch has an interest in the prudent handling of public relations, and no formal controversy is needed to say a few words on the topic. The Constitution does not oblige the government to accommodate religiously motivated conduct that is forbidden by neutral rules, see Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), and therefore does not entitle anyone to wear religious headgear in places where rules of general application require all heads to be bare or to be No. 02-3424 9 covered in uniform ways (for example, by military caps or helmets). See Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986). Yet the judicial branch is free to extend spectators more than their constitutional minimum entitlement. Tolerance usually is the best course in a pluralistic nation. Accommodation of religiously inspired conduct is a token of respect for, and a beacon of welcome to, those whose beliefs differ from the majorityís. The best way for the judiciary to receive the publicís respect is to earn that respect by showing a wise appreciation of cultural and religious diversity. Obeisance differs from respect; to demand the former in the name of the latter is selfdefeating. It is difficult for us to see any reason why a Jew may not wear his yarmulke in court, a Sikh his turban, a Muslim woman her chador, or a Moor his fez. Most spectators will continue to doff their caps as a sign of respect for the judiciary; those who keep heads covered as a sign of respect for (or obedience to) a power higher than the state should not be cast out of court or threatened with penalties. Defendants are entitled to trials that others of their faith may freely attend, and spectators of all faiths are entitled to see justice being done.

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