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A 37-year-old North Carolina man was in court Thursday for an incident with a Muslim woman on an airplane last year.
On Dec. 15, 2015 Gil Parker Payne confronted the woman, identified in court documents as K.A., on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico and demanded she remove her hijab, the Department of Justice said in a press release.
According to his own admission, when the woman refused to do what he said Payne grabbed the headscarf, removed it himself and yelled something along the lines of “Take it off! This is America!”
Payne pleaded guilty to one count of using force or threat of force to intentionally obstruct a Muslim woman in the free exercise of her religious beliefs.
He has not yet been sentenced.
“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 said. “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.”
“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 P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico added. “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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