WASHINGTON (WNCN) – A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Friday in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico to ripping off a Muslim woman’s headscarf on a flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico in December 2015.
Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, 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.
According to court documents, the incident occurred on Dec. 11, 2015, when Payne and the woman, identified only as K.A., were on board a Southwest Airlines flight. K.A. was wearing her religious headscarf, known as a hijab.
Court records show that Payne was seated several rows behind K.A. on the airplane, and did not know her. Payne admitted to authorities that he saw that K.A. was wearing a hijab and was aware that it is a religious practice of Muslim women to wear a headscarf.
Payne also admitted that just before landing, but while still in-flight, he walked up the aisle to where K.A. was sitting and stopped next to her seat. Payne then told the woman to take off her hijab, stating something to the effect of, “Take it off! This is America!” Payne then grabbed the back of the hijab and pulled it all the way off, leaving the woman’s entire head exposed.
Court documents show that the woman said she felt violated and quickly pulled the hijab back up and covered her head again.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, issued a statement saying:
No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence. 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.”
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set.