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Lt. Col. Martha McSally

Lt. Col. Martha McSally wins fight against degrading Islamic garb!

Good going to the Rutherford Institute and Mr. Whitehead!

Lt. Col. Martha McSally wins fight against degrading Islamic garb!

The Rutherford Institute Scores Victory in Congress on Behalf of Lt. Col. Martha McSally, Decorated U.S. Fighter Pilot

Senate Votes 93-0 to Overturn U.S. Military Policy Requiring Servicewomen to Wear Muslim Garb

Washington, DC, On June 24, 2002, the U.S. Senate voted 93-0 in favor of an amendment to prohibit the Department of Defense from requiring or even formally urging servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the Muslim abaya, a black head-to-toe robe worn in certain Muslim cultures and perceived as a sign of subordination to men.

The amendment to the DoD Authorization Bill, S.A. 3969, which was sponsored by Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) and largely based on language drafted by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, followed on the heels of a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives in May 2002. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined Smith in introducing the measure.

The Rutherford Institute brought the issue into the national spotlight when its attorneys filed suit in December 2001 on behalf of Lt. Col. Martha McSally, a decorated pilot with the U.S. Air Force, challenging a military policy requiring servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya when off base. The suit, filed against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. Department of Defense, charged that the military's dress policy violates McSally's constitutional rights to equal protection and the freedoms of religion and speech.

The Rutherford Institute, working in conjunction with McSally and leaders on Capitol Hill, sought to resolve the issue of the unconstitutional dress policy through judicial and legislative means. The final amendment passed by the Senate prevents any member of the Armed Forces or employee of the United States from requiring or encouraging that the abaya garment be worn and from retaliating against those who choose not to wear the abaya.

The amendment also instructs the Secretary of Defense and those acting in his stead to provide each female member of the Armed Forces stationed in Saudi Arabia with information regarding the abaya prohibition. Finally, the amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for the procurement of abayas.

"The Senate vote is a great victory for freedom and the democratic process," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "And because of Martha McSally's courageous stand, it is also a victory for the rights of women in the armed services."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.


05/15/2002

House of Representatives Votes Unanimously to Abolish U.S. Military Policy Requiring Sericewomen in Saudi Arabia to Wear Muslim Garb

Press Contacts: Nisha N. Mohammed Ph: (434) 978-3888, ext. 604 Pager: 800-946-4646, Pin #: 1478257

Rutherford Institute Attorneys Continue to Challenge Defense Department's Motion to Dismiss Fighter Pilot Lt. Col. Martha McSally's Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from requiring or even formally urging servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the Muslim abaya, a black head-to-toe robe worn in certain Muslim cultures and perceived as a sign of subordination to men.

"Christians like Lt. Col. Martha McSally should not be forced to wear a Muslim outfit, especially when off-duty and on their own time," Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) said during the House debate. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), a seven-year Air Force veteran and co-sponsor of the bill, added, "The sad thing is that this bill is needed at all. This policy should never have been put in place."

Meanwhile, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute continue to challenge the Defense Department's attempt to dismiss Lt. Col. Martha McSally's lawsuit. McSally, a decorated pilot with the U.S. Air Force, filed suit in December 2001 to overturn the abaya policy, as well as other regulations requiring that a woman be accompanied by a man when off base and sit in the rear seat of any vehicle containing more than two passengers.

McSally claims the policy violates her constitutional rights to equal protection and the freedoms of religion and speech. In filing its motion to dismiss McSally's lawsuit, the Department of Defense claims to have resolved the issue by changing the policy's language from "mandatory" to "strongly encouraged." But attorneys for The Rutherford Institute say that language still presents concerns about coercion of female military service personnel.

Institute attorneys are also charging the Pentagon with retaliatory treatment toward McSally as a result of her opposition to these discriminatory policies. After she challenged the policies, Lt. Col. McSally's performance review was unfavorable for the first time in her military career, and her superiors refused to recommend her for a command position. Furthermore, Institute attorneys point out that the U.S. government continues to purchase and issue Muslim garb for American servicewomen, a clear violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

"Now that the unanimous voice of the people, through their elected Congressional representatives, has been heard on this issue, it has become even more clear that the abaya policy is a violation of fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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