North Carolina Man Admits Pulling Woman's Hijab Off While Aboard Southwest Airlines Flight

A North Carolina man who ripped off a female passenger's hijab during a Southwest Airlines flight last year was sentenced to two months of house arrest on Friday, after pleading guilty in a New Mexico federal court.

New York Daily News reports that 37-year-old Gill Parker Payne, of Gastonia, North Carolina, was en route from Chicago to Albuquerque on December 11, 2015, on a Southwest Airlines flight, when he approached Muslim female passenger, "K.A.," and told her to take off her hijab, a headscarf generally worn by Muslim women. When she refused, Payne waited until towards the end of the flight and ripped it off of her head, while shouting at her.

"Take it off! This is America!"
Payne said that he knew that a hijab was an important religious item to Muslims, and admitted guilt during his Friday plea hearing. As part of his plea deal, Payne gave a written statement, admitting to his crime.
"Because I forcibly removed K.A.'s hijab, I admit that the United States can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I intentionally obstructed K.A.'s free exercise of her religious beliefs."
According to Payne's lawyer, Amber Fayerberg, Payne is serving two months of home detention while he awaits sentencing. She also indicated that her client wants to move on begin the "healing process."

"Mr. Payne has taken responsibility for his actions and he's sorry for them. He's ready to begin the healing process and move forward."

Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, released a statement shortly after the plea deal, indicating that all Americans have the right to "peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence."

"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. The Civil Rights Division will continue to be vigilant in protecting the religious liberties guaranteed to all Americans."
HuffPost Crime reports that the incident happened just days after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S. until they could be screened. Below is his campaign statement.
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
Although the timing of Payne's actions were close to the campaign statement, there's no evidence to suggest that Payne's crime had anything to do with Trump's campaign statement.
The incident also happened less than two weeks after a San Bernardino, California, terroristic attack in which 14 people were killed and 22 were injured at the Inland Regional Center. This wasn't the only crime against Muslims that occurred last year. According to the New York Times and a Georgetown University research project that focused on Islamophobia, hate crimes against Muslim Americans almost more than doubled in 2015 alone, with crimes that included 12 murders, 50 threats against people and/or institutions 29 physical assaults, eight arsons, and nine shootings.

A hijab is a headscarf commonly worn by Muslim women. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)
A hijab is a headscarf commonly worn by Muslim women. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

The maximum penalty for obstructing the rights of others to practice their own beliefs is a year behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000. Since Gill Payne took a plea deal, he'll receive probation (the duration of the probation hasn't yet been determined), as well as a possible fine.

[Photo by AP Images]