Photo by Heather Middleton
By Elaine Rackley
A Muslim man, who tried three times to respond to a traffic violation summons in a Henry County courtroom, but couldn't because he was wearing a "kufi," had a chance to be heard on Monday.
A kufi is a hat worn by many Muslims.
Troy Tariq Montgomery's appearance Monday was quick and decisive, however. Donning a white kufi, he entered a guilty plea. Henry County State Court Judge James T. Chafin accepted it. The judge told Montgomery the normal fine for the speeding ticket was $200, however, Montgomery's was reduced 20 percent, because he completed a defensive driving class. Chafin told Montgomery there would not be any points placed on his license.
"Are you prepared to pay the fine today?" asked Chafin.
"Yes," replied Montgomery.
Chafin also charged Montgomery a $25 late fee, for his tardiness to court.
"This was a good outcome in this case," said Montgomery's attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis. He was retained after Montgomery was not allowed to answer his speeding summons earlier, because of the kufi.
"Obviously this was much bigger than Mr. Montgomery. Other Americans must become culturally informed," said Davis. The attorney said although the case stemmed from a speeding ticket, disregard for the Muslim attire became the focus.
"We are here to support his religious rights," said Plemon T. El-Amin, Imam of Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, one of several members of the religious community at the hearing. "It [the kufi] is a part of a religious garment, he should have been able to wear it in the courtroom."
Davis said earlier that his client provided Judge Chafin with a decision by the Judicial Council of Georgia, which established a policy allowing the wearing of head-coverings throughout the state of Georgia. The council is a state-level judicial agency charged with developing policies for administering and improving the courts. As a result of a similar Douglasville case, the Council of Georgia voted to allow religious and medical headgear in Georgia courtrooms.
"It's a frustrating feeling going through this," said Montgomery. "This is so unnecessary. It should have ended the first time I was in court. This is my fourth time in court.
"So, once I told them what it [the kufi] was for, religious observance, it should have been handled the first time he took me through this," added Montgomery, who said he would like an apology from the judge.
Judge Chafin had first refused an appearance by Montgomery in his courtroom on April 1. He advised him he did not allow the wearing of hats in his courtroom. The judge issued a statement on May 6, however, saying he did his own research, and determined that a kufi does have a religious connotation.