Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Judge bars Jewish man from his own trial in dispute over head covering; then finds him guilty in absentia

The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Jewish man who was barred from participating in his own trial after a judge removed him from the courtroom for insisting on wearing a head covering in keeping with his Jewish beliefs. Stephen Orr, a resident of Chesapeake, Va., was tried in absentia and found guilty, after a judge denied his request to wear a hat, or “kippah,” into the courtroom in keeping with a Jewish mandate that persons wear a head covering at all times. The judge allegedly based his denial on the fact that other Jewish litigants appear in court without a head covering.

“As Jewish Americans prepare to celebrate Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, we would do well to remember that in many parts of this country, the right to freely practice one’s religious beliefs remains an uphill battle, and that’s true no matter what your religious beliefs, whether you’re a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “State law and the First Amendment clearly prohibit the government and its agents from impeding the free exercise of religion. For Stephen Orr, that means wearing a hat into the courtroom. For someone else, it might be the right to mention God in a graduation speech, or avoid eating particular foods. It’s not up to the government to decide whether one’s religious beliefs are credible so long as they are sincere.”

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