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Prison officials can ban employees from wearing religious headscarves out of concerns they pose a safety risk, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Monday in a split 2-1 decision.

Prison officials have legitimate concerns the headscarves can hide drugs or other contraband, or be used by an inmate to strangle someone, the majority said.

The ruling dismisses a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three Muslim women employed at the Delaware County Prison in suburban Thornton. The EEOC had said they were being forced to compromise their religious beliefs to keep their jobs.

The suit was filed against the Geo Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based contractor that formerly operated the facility.

After the prison implemented a ban on hats and headscarves in 2005, nurse Carmen Sharpe-Allen was fired for refusing to remove her headscarf, or khimar, at work. Intake clerk Marquita King and correctional officer Rashemma Moss, after some deliberation, agreed to remove their headscarves on the job.


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