Buffalo traffic stop could open new front in Muslim veil fight

Last month, the state’s top criminal court ruled that wearing a Muslim head covering in public violates its ruling from a decade ago, and the Buffalo area will begin enforcing the regulation on Monday.

Members of the conservative Islamic group Sisters of Charity Church in Buffalo were among the first to be issued a summons at a traffic stop. They were not fined or given warnings, according to Melissa Petro, a spokeswoman for the town of Orchard Park. The offense, a public lewdness violation, carries a fine of $110 to $200. The penalty is retroactive, meaning that the women face additional fines for past transgressions.

Mr. Petro said the enforcement is intended to act as a deterrent, not to punish or deter people from wearing the head covering.

“It’s not an action to retaliate or to get their back up. It’s an action to defend our citizens’ rights,” Mr. Petro said in an interview. “It’s to protect our citizens from intrusion. I don’t know if our citizens have ever been inconvenienced, humiliated or provoked, but they need to protect themselves and their rights.”

The enforcement is just the first step, Mr. Petro said. The town will issue similar summonses in waves, monitoring the number of tickets in hopes of reducing the number of violations. “They would have one or two in a morning,” Mr. Petro said. “They’re targeting our churches, not Muslims.”

There are about 200 religious groups in Orchard Park, he said. The violations, Mr. Petro said, will apply only to churches and synagogues that are the subject of “a community dispute that involved the Muslims in general or members of the Muslim community in particular.”

Several Orthodox Jewish organizations, meanwhile, sent letters urging “the immediate withdrawal of the summonses” and a re-examination of the law, saying that while they are “very much concerned about this ongoing conflict between the Muslim community and the criminal justice system, the various statutes and administrative orders are not appropriate for criminal enforcement at all.”

Last week, the Middle East Forum, a conservative public policy group, sued the town, arguing that the license the town issues for some religious-head covering restrictions is “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

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