A recent USA Today article highlighted increased allegations of religious discrimination by women wearing hijabs to show that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is improperly singling out Muslim women at security checkpoints. Unfortunately, the issue is a bit less clear cut than critics claim.
According to the story, a Muslim woman was traveling through a TSA checkpoint at Dulles International Airport when she was ordered to remove her hijab before going through a metal detector. She refused, went through the metal detector without setting it off, and was subsequently subjected to a full-body search.
In response to this report, Khadija Athman, the civil rights manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued:
"most people understand the need for safety, including Muslim women, who want to make sure they are safe too…. But at the same time, Muslim women would appreciate it if their religious beliefs would be accommodated.
Rather than this being a case of failing to accommodate religious beliefs, it was the likely the result of a TSA screener attempting to ensure the security of flights.
While TSA policy allows passengers to wear head coverings at security checkpoints, the TSA screener was following protocol when he asked this passenger to submit to additional screening, including a pat-down search. As the TSA policy says:
"the new standard procedures subject all persons wearing head coverings to the possibility of additional screening, which may include a pat-down search of the head covering."
TSA security screeners must have every tool at their disposal to ensure the safety of air travel. With the increased use of weapons and explosives that can pass through security checkpoints, the flexibility to require secondary screening is a necessity.