Although a female Muslim law graduate had received the required prior authorization to wear her hojab during the bar exam in Massachusetts, a test proctor interrupted her during the morning essay session with a note informing her she could not wear headwear during the exam.
A female Muslim Michigan Law graduate, who wears a hijab, was interupted while taking her bar exam at the Western New England University School of Law on Thursday when a test proctor in Massachusetts passed her a note during the morning essay session informing her she could not wear headwear during the exam.
While headgear is not permitted during bar exams, the restriction does not apply for religious headgear as long as special written approval has been obtained before the test from a state’s board of bar examiners. The female student had received prior permission from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners to wear her hijab in this case.
Nevertheless, a proctor interrupted her with the following note while she was taking the exam:
“Headwear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval.”
The young woman spent part of her lunch break “calling the Bar office to convince the proctors [she] was all set.”
Executive Director Marilyn Wellington from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners expressed the following regarding the incident, according to the Above the Law website:
“This was an unfortunate miscommunication. We withdrew the request that she make adjustments to her headgear, and she wore her religious garments throughout the entire testing day. The miscommunication was corrected as soon as we were made aware of it.
This was a very unfortunate miscommunication, and it could have dire results for the Muslim woman involved. Not only is it incredibly embarrassing for the Massachusetts Bar, but it could be viewed as an affront to Islamic religious customs. We can’t even imagine how the state Bar would handle the situation if this woman were to fail the exam as a result of this religious note-passing absurdity.”
The young woman involved in the incident spoke to Above the Law, and expressed that she does not believe this situation was caused by any racial or religious animus on the proctor’s part. She does not think the proctor intended to “harass” her, but rather, chose an incredibly inconvenient time to implement the “no headgear” rule.
In her letter, she noted that the proctor should have brought up the issue before the test began.
She also addressed the following concerns regarding the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiner’s inconvenient approach to religious headwear:
“Second, the requirement for prior authorization to wear religious headgear is unnecessary. I also took the Connecticut bar exam and they took no issue with my headscarf. The requirement is a bit strange.
Lastly, if they require the prior authorization, they should make that clear in the application. I strangely discovered the requirement in the “security policy” link that was included in an email sent a month ago. The email had general exam information and other links. The only conspicuous requirements involved medical accommodations. I’m lucky I found it, because some other women who wear the headscarf are now telling me they had problems too when they didn’t discover the requirement in time. Nevertheless, I was successful in getting the authorization, but when I called Monday to ask for proof of the authorization to take with me to the exam site, they said it was not necessary and that they would make sure the proctor knew that.”
She concluded, “We agree that rules like these are burdensome, but if they must be in effect, they should be properly enforced, and that is certainly not what happened in this case.”