A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Friday in Albuquerque to charges related to his accosting of a Muslim woman on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque.
Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, N.C., was charged with one count of using force or threats of force to intentionally obstruct an individual in the free exercise of their religious beliefs.
According to court documents, the incident occurred Dec. 11, 2015, during the flight. The Muslim woman, identified as K.A., was seated several rows in front of Payne and wearing a hijab, a traditional headscarf. Payne admitted that shortly before landing, but while still in flight, he walked up the aisle to K.A.’s seat and ordered her to take off the hijab, stating “Take it off! This is America!” He then grabbed the back of the hijab and pulled it off.
“No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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.”