A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Friday to ripping the hijab off a Muslim woman on an airplane.
The Department of Justice said Gill Payne, 37, was on a flight from Chicago to Albuquerque in December when he walked up to a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and said something like, “Take it off! This is America!” He then pulled it down off her head.
“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, who leads the 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 pleaded guilty to one count of using force or threat of force to intentionally obstruct the woman’s free exercise of religion, according to court documents. His sentence has not yet been decided.
“This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals, including members of our Muslim community, to express their faith without fear,” U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez of the District of New Mexico said in a statement.“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting the religious rights of Muslims in New Mexico by aggressively prosecuting those who wish to perpetrate hate crimes against them.”
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