On December 11, 2015, a White man pulled off a Muslim woman’s hijab. On Friday (May 13), he pleaded guilty to what the U.S. Department of Justice describes as “one count of using force or threat of force to intentionally obstruct a Muslim woman … in the free exercise of her religious beliefs.”
Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, North Carolina, approached a Muslim woman, identified as “K.A.” while aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He told K.A. to remove her hijab, yelling, “Take it off! This is America!” When she refused, he pulled her headscarf off, violently exposing her, which is counter to her faith. The assault happened at a time when Islamophobia runs rampant, from defaced mosques to presidential candidates who think Muslims should be banned from the United States.
“No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence,” principal deputy assistant attorney general Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Using or threatening force against individuals because of their religion is an affront to the fundamental values of this nation, and the Civil Rights Division will continue to be vigilant in protecting the religious liberties guaranteed to all Americans.”
Payne appeared in the District of New Mexico court, and the case is being investigated by the the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The date has not yet been set for his sentencing hearing.