Muslim Woman Says Georgia Corrections Department Prohibited Her From Wearing Hijab

A Muslim woman who worked as a prison guard for the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) claimed she was not allowed to wear a hijab while she was at work. Jalanda Calhoun, a corrections officer who worked at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia for three years, filed a complaint with the Georgia Commission of Equal Opportunity on May 13. Calhoun said the GDC violated her religious beliefs by prohibiting her from wearing her religious head covering, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Calhoun, 25, told her supervisors that she had recently converted to Islam and would begin to wear a hijab to work and would need a 10-minute break to pray, according to AJC. When she first began to wear the hijab, Calhoun said she was stared at and received inappropriate comments.

“Both my job and my religion are very important to me,” Calhoun told the publication. “I never thought I would have to choose between them.” In February, Calhoun received a letter from prison Warden Linton Deloach stating that she should wear a department-issued cap instead of her hijab. The letter reportedly said that the “head coverings that you have asked to wear do not conform” to department standards.

During a May 15 press conference held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Georgia, Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said prison officials said that they were understaffed. As a result, it could not set time aside for Calhoun to pray.

"Right now, American Muslim women can wear hijabs while serving as soldiers, police officers, medics, and other public service roles. Yet the state of Georgia is denying a Muslim woman her constitutional right to wear a hijab while serving the state prison system," said Mitchell in a statement. "The state's ban on hijabs makes no sense, violates the law, and must not stand."

In a statement to The North Star, the GDC said it is aware of Calhoun’s concerns. “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,” the department wrote. Calhoun told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution she loves her job and just wants to be given the same respect as everyone else.

“I just feel uncomfortable because I’m so used to being covered,” she told the publication. “When I’m not covered, it makes me feel naked or something. I just feel uncomfortable.” A Pew Research Center 2017 survey found that nearly 75 percent of Muslims living in the US believe there is discrimination against them in the country. Fifty-four percent of the people surveyed believe that being a Muslim in America has become more difficult over the past few years.

Despite this, many Muslim Americans are continuing to break barriers. Earlier this month, Somali American model Halima Aden became the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in the 2019’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Aden shot her photos with photographer Yu Tsai in Kenya for the magazine’s photo shoot. “I keep thinking [back] to 6-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima previously told Sports Illustrated. “So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya — I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.