Muslim Woman Told to Remove Headwear In the Middle of State Bar Exam

Officials said the situation was corrected promptly, and was an unfortunate miscommunication.

The head of the state’s bar examiners said Saturday that the board would take a look at protocol, in regards to religious head garments being worn during test-taking, after a Muslim woman was given a note ordering her to remove her hijab, even though she had received consent prior to exam day.

Marilyn Wellington, executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, told Boston that the incident during the exam in Springfield last week, when a University of Michigan graduate of Muslim faith was given a hand-written note telling her to place her headscarf underneath her seat to comply with the rules, was “unfortunate” and officials are looking into it. “There was a request made by a proctor that she remove her hijab, and it was a miscommunication,” said Wellington. “At this point, we are very regretful it happened and we are reviewing our procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

According to the Massachusetts Board Bar Examiner’s “security policy,” items such as “hats, scarves, caps, hoods, bandanas, visors, costume headgear or sunglasses” can’t be worn inside the examination room. However, “headwear that has been granted prior approval by the Board of Bar Examiners for religious or medical reasons,” is allowed.

The board’s director said these procedures are in place to thwart someone’s “ability…to cheat or bring in information that would provide them with an advantage over other people taking the exam.”

Wellington confirmed that the woman taking the test Thursday had received pre-approval by the board to wear her headscarf during the test. However, despite the pre-approval, the proctor appointed to oversee the distribution of the test still asked her to take it off “in the middle” of the 16-hour bar exam.

The note handed to the test-taker, which was posted to various social media sites, said the following:

Photo via

Photo via

The woman said in a subsequent Facebook post, later shared on Twitter, that she had received the verbal approval on Monday, days before the bar exam. She said she was “already bothered” by the whole process she had to go through to get the OK to wear her religious headpiece, and even more so when she was interrupted in the middle of her test, instead of the proctor “waiting for her lunch break.”

The woman spent her lunch break calling the exam board to let them know what happened, according to her post online.

Wellington said as soon as her office was made aware of the proctor’s request, it was immediately dismissed. “It was a very unfortunate miscommunication and we corrected it as soon as we were aware of it,” she said.

The “miscommunication” will be subject of review so the board can “see how it can be improved and to make sure this sort of circumstance is avoidable in the future,” said Wellington. She confirmed that receiving requests prior to the day of an exam to wear religious garments are “common,” and that this particular incident was “unique.”

The woman who was at the center of the incident told, who first reported on it, that she didn’t feel as though she was singled out or racially targeted, but that she hoped three things would come from the unfortunate interaction, including changes to the procedures to get approval for those who wear headscarves or other religious head garments. “First, the proctor saw me walking into the room and we were about 30 people in total. If she was concerned I didn’t have authorization, she should’ve asked at the outset and I would’ve gladly explained. Second, the requirement for prior authorization to wear religious headgear is unnecessary…lastly, if they require the prior authorization, they should make that clear in the application. I strangely discovered the requirement in the ‘security policy’ link that was included in an email sent a month ago,” she told Above The Law. “The whole process is cumbersome and inefficient.”