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On The Front Lines

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

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

-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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