For a little legal analysis check out this blog:
It’s not clear to what extent the expletive might have been punishable as fighting words (was it, for instance, “f*** you” said to the bailiff, or just a generic “f***!” said in exasperation?), or to what extent the judge’s authority to punish even non-fighting-words vulgarity in court would extend outside the courtroom (I’m inclined to say that it wouldn’t be). But in any case, it seems the jail sentence at least in large part stemmed from the refusal to remove the headgear.
As with many religious accommodation questions involving Muslims, this is not a new issue. (I set aside the complicated question of William Penn’s hat, and stick with more modern cases.) Judges have, for instance, applied no-hat rules to demand that parties or witnesses remove yarmulkes, see, e.g., Close-It Enterprises, Inc. v. Weinberger, 64 A.D.2d 686 (N.Y. App. Div. 1978), or their Catholic or Episcopalian priestly garb, People v. Drucker, 418 N.Y.S.2d 744 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 1979); O’Reilly v. New York Times Co., 692 F.2d 863 (2d Cir. 1982); Ryslik v. Krass, 652 A.2d 767 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1995). The priest cases didn’t involve headgear, but one can easily imagine similar issues arising as to nuns’ habits. There have been other Muslim cases, as well. See, e.g., In re Palmer, 386 A.2d 1112 (R.I. 1978); State v. Allen, 832 P.2d 1248 (Ore. App. 1992).
Some of the cases involved no-hat rules that courts imposed just a matter of general decorum, and others involved prohibitions on wearing religious garb in front of juries justified by a fear that the religious garb would prejudice or otherwise unduly influence jurors. But in all these cases (except one that involved a priest wearing priestly garb as a lawyer, see La Rocca v. Lane, 37 N.Y.2d 575 (1975), a potentially different sort of question), the courts held that the prohibition shouldn’t be applied when the garb is seen as religiously mandated.
UPDATE: Avi Schick reminds me of an opinion by Judge Easterbrook — a noted moderate conservative judge on the federal court of appeals for the Seventh Circuit — that I blogged about five years ago, and that Schick also wrote about (emphasis added):
Tolerance usually is the best course in a pluralistic nation. Accommodation of religiously inspired conduct is a token of respect for, and a beacon of welcome to, those whose beliefs differ from the majority’s. The best way for the judiciary to receive the public’s respect is to earn that respect by showing a wise appreciation of cultural and religious diversity. Obeisance differs from respect; to demand the former in the name of the latter is self-defeating.
It is difficult for us to see any reason why a Jew may not wear his yarmulke in court, a Sikh his turban, a Muslim woman her chador, or a Moor his fez. Most spectators will continue to doff their caps as a sign of respect for the judiciary; those who keep heads covered as a sign of respect for (or obedience to) a power higher than the state should not be cast out of court or threatened with penalties. Defendants are entitled to trials that others of their faith may freely attend, and spectators of all faiths are entitled to see justice being done.
I think the last part hits the nail on the head.