ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man who admitted yanking a Muslim woman’s hijab from her head during an airline flight pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of obstruction of a person’s free exercise of religious rights, according to the plea agreement filed in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico.
Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, North Carolina, will serve two months of home detention under the terms of the plea agreement. A sentencing date has not been set. The judge does not have to accept the agreement.
The incident occurred on a December 11 Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a news release from the Justice Department. The woman is identified only as “K.A.” in court documents.
‘I grabbed the back of the hijab’
The “defendant’s admission of facts” in the the plea agreement says:
“I stopped next to her seat, looked down at K.A., and told her to take off her hijab, stating something to the effect of, ‘Take it off! This is America!’ I then grabbed the back of the hijab and pulled it all the off, leaving K.A.’s entire head exposed. As a result, K.A. 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 Friday:
“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.”
The incident occurred while the plane was about to land in Albuquerque.
When reached for comment, a Southwest spokesman said: “We have procedures in place to report and escalate situations involving inappropriate behavior by our customers, including alerting local law enforcement officials. We do not tolerate discrimination or inappropriate behavior by any of our customers toward another.”
The maximum sentence on the charge is one year in prison, a fine of $100,000, probation for up to five years and restitution.