Georgia bans female correctional officer from wearing Muslim hijab

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A Georgia correctional worker is asking Governor Kemp to direct state agencies to allow employees to wear religious clothing.

Jalanda Calhoun, who is Muslim, works at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. She says she converted to Islam in January. At that time, she opted to wear a hijab, a scarf that covers hair, ears, and neck.

Calhoun provided FOX 5 News a copy of a letter written by the warden in February. It says she cannot wear the hijab.

"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."

The warden's letter says the headscarf would prevent Calhoun from being easily identified as a worker, allow contraband to be concealed, and could be easily used by an offender to conceal his identity during an attempt to escape.

"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.

When asked about this case, Governor Kemp's office directed FOX 5 to the Department of Corrections. It issued a statement that reads:

“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.”

Mitchell expects to hear a response to the complaint within six months. If necessary, he says he will file a federal appeal and lawsuit.