Is TSA Exempting Women In Hijabs From Controversial Pat-Downs?

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November 22, 2010 5:03 a.m.

Contrary to reports burning up the right-wing media that Muslim women would get a free pass, the Transportation Security Administration isn’t exempting anyone from those new intensive airport pat-downs.

Recent stories on Glenn Beck’s blog The Blaze, Fox News and elsewhere suggested that the TSA would only pat down the head and neck of Muslim women who objected to backscatter X-ray machines.Travelers who object to the machines are now subject to intensive pat-downs, in which a TSA agent of the same sex feels around the traveler’s groin and breasts.

But Muslim women and others who object to the invasive procedures are out of luck:

“No one is exempt. Everyone is subject to the same screening. TSA is sensitive to religious and cultural needs, but everyone must be screened effectively,” the TSA said recently on its blog, which is in overdrive responding to rumors about the pat-downs.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, however, offered a bit more flexibility, saying there will be “adjustments” to the policy (a statement more recently echoed by TSA Administrator John Pistole) and said she expects “more to come” on the issue of religious objections.

The rumor stems from an advisory put out by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization which, among other things, publicizes perceived wrongs on the Muslim community. CAIR put out a travel advisory saying, in part, “Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.”

Late update: A reader points out that the part of the CAIR advisory we excerpted is actually advice for women who have been selected for additional screening because of their hijab, even if the backscatter or metal detector didn’t go off. In those scenarios, CAIR said, a woman has the right to ask that only the area covered by the hijab — in this case, her head and neck — be patted down.

As far as the invasive pat-downs for those who refuse to go through the backscatter machine, CAIR suggests that women ask for the pat-down to be done in private and report any misconduct to the TSA and CAIR.

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