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Activist brings courtroom no-hat policies to the fore

Feb 02, 2011 Activist brings courtroom no-hat policies to the fore

All courtrooms where I go seem to have no-hat policies other than for religious headwear and perhaps giving more leeway at times, at least in practice, towards women wearing hats.

In Georgia, after a woman was sentenced in 2008 to ten days in jail for refusing to remove her religious head covering, around seven months later the Georgia Supreme Court directed that religious head coverings be allowed. In the mid-1990’s, a Texas trial judge offered an Orthodox Jewish expert witness a choice between testifying without his yarmulke, or not testifying at all. He filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct . 

What happens when a courtroom visitor refuses to remove his head covering not because religion directs the wearing of such covering, but because his religion directs him not to pay any higher respect to judges than to anyone else? Meet Pete Eyre, who asserts: "My religious views are aligned with the perspective of the Quakers… I don’t use or acknowledge titles, bow to those considered socially superior – or take my hat off in court." Last week, when he refused to remove his baseball cap in the courtroom, he was arrested and brought before the judge the next day for a procedural hearing. (See the incident herehere and here.) On the hearing date, his ally Adam Mueller received a sixty-day jail sentence in part or in full for telling the judge that his court was a joke.

What provisions are made in courtrooms for people whose heads feel too cold when uncovered or who wish to cover bald spots?

No-hat policies in courtrooms undoubtedly stem from the long-held view by many in the West that it is disrespectful for men to keep hats on inside. Particularly in the days when more men wore hats and when sexism was more rampant, it was common for men to tip their hats to women as they passed them on the street. Sometimes hats have been held over one’s heart to pay respect or pledge allegiance, which baseball players due during the national anthem. Were I a judge, my only concern about hats would be whether weapons were any more easily concealed there than in any other part of one’s clothing or baggage, and whether those with big hats should sit farther back in the courtroom to allow everyone else to see the proceedings unobstructed. It is time to end the notion that indoor hat wearing is disrespectful.

Removing hats in courtrooms is related to the command to stand for judges when they enter the courtroom. Were I a judge, I would continue the wonderful practice of many judges who have their courtroom staff say "remain seated" when the judge enters the courtroom. I would even like to enter without a robe, which I remember being the case in Alexandria, Virginia, Circuit Court, with judges in the courtroom in sportcoats during scheduling conferences. Rather than the remain-seated approach diminishing respect for the judicial branch, I think it enhances such respect by bringing courtroom practices more in line with a democratic, open, and non-regal society, and by earning real respect by judges’ just actions rather than by mandating superficial respect.

What do you think about judges requiring no hats in the courtroom other than for religious purposes, wearing robes when the United States should be a robe-less society by now, and having courtroom personnel direct everyone to rise each time the judge walks into the courtroom? Can’t the judiciary be at least as strong if not stronger by commanding real respect by its actions, rather than superficial respect from standing when judges enter the courtroom and not wearing hats?

ADDENDUM: As much as Twitter is too often mere McSpeak with its 140-character limit, I learned of this story there.

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