Yelling “Take it off! This is America!” a man strode down the aisle of a Southwest Airlines flight and pulled off a woman’s hijab Muslim headscarf, a court has heard.
Gill Parker Payne of North Carolina was flying from Chicago to Albuquerque in New Mexico when he decided that a woman who was sitting a few rows ahead of him should not be wearing a hijab.
“Take it off! This is America!” Payne said before grabbing the back of the hijab and pulling it off, leaving the woman’s head exposed.
Payne pleaded guilty on Friday to a charge of obstructing a person’s right to exercise religious freedom. The US Justice Deparmtent noted that the victim had felt violated and had quickly pulled her hijab back up and covered her head again.
Payne will serve two months of home detention as part of a plea deal, CNN reported. A sentencing date has not been set but the maximum sentence for the charge is a year in prison, a fine of USD 100,000, five years of probation and restitution to the victim.
As part of the plea agreement that Payne hopes will save him from a heavy sentence, Payne wrote an admission, including the words: “Because I forcibly removed K.A.’s hijab, I admit that the United States can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I intentionally obstructed K.A.’s free exercise of her religious beliefs. Because my actions occurred while the airplane was still in-flight I admit that the United States can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offence was in or affected interstate commerce.”
The judge does not have to accept the plea agreement.
Written by Peter Needham