Saturday, August 29, 2009

Katrina and Michigan's Rule of Evidence

Today is the four year anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. It ranks at number three of the top five deadliest hurricanes in US history, the sixth strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, and the third strongest to make landfall in the US.

It formed in the Bahamas on the 23rd of August, crossed Florida as a category one, picked up speed and force and was briefly considered a category five before it slowed and landed in New Orleans as a category three. It may not have caused so much damage had the levees worked, but because of their massive failure, even hours after the hurricane had landed, New Orleans flooded under thousands of gallons of water. 1,833 lives (disputed, may be 1,825-1,850) were claimed in the aftermath that ensued when the levees failed. Katrina is estimated to be responsible for about $81.2 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in US history. The two storms more deadly? Lake Okeechobee in 1928 (2500 lives), and The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (8000 lives). So, today think of those that passed and their families as they still try to move on and bring New Orleans back to its former glory. (Also, watch out for Hurricane Danny as it moves north along the eastern coast.)

In other news, Michigan's new Rule of Evidence has got people talking (and me thinking). Basically, "the order allows courts 'reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses' so as to 'ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder and ensure the accurate identification of such person.'"

In English, please? It means that if anyone wears any kind of religious head covering (Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, etc.) the court can ask you to remove it, even though certain religions forbid removing them in public or in front of members of the opposite sex for religious reasons.

Huh. That sounds suspiciously like a violation of the First Amendment -- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This all started because a woman came to court wearing a niqab, which covers everything except the eyes (pictured left). She was asked to remove the niqab and when she said she couldn't because she was a practicing Muslim, the judge told her she could remove it or have her case dismissed. She chose the latter, probably because removing her niqab in front of men can be considered apostasy, the the rejection in word or action of one's religion. And in conservative Muslim circles, apostasy can be punishable by death. Is death worth the "$2,750 repair bill from a car rental company" she was contesting? Not so much.

She, of course, sued (it's the American way!), but the Federal District Court claimed it wasn't their jurisdiction. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is asking the Michigan court to "add a sentence to the rule saying "that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held belief,'" according to the Detroit Free Press, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is taking the judge to court over the incident.

The law goes into effect September 1.


  1. There is absolutely no way that law will stand. They practically went out of their way to violate the first amendment.

    Katrina's devastation was just as much a function of the hurricane's strength as it was of poor engineering all over the city. There's an old saying about levees. "There are two kinds of levees in the world; those that have broken, and those that will."

  2. I will be thinking and praying for the families of Katrina Victims, and also praying that they don't pass that law. It's like raping the first amendment.

  3. That new Michigan law seems the very least they could provide a private, female employee of the court to verify the person's identity with their driver's license or something like that before they go to the stand. That would be better than requiring the case to be thrown out if they're not willing to violate the laws of their religion. Crazyyy!


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