According to the state Board of Bar Examiners, it was regrettable miscommunication — not religious discrimination — that led a proctor to ask a Muslim woman to remove religious headwear while she was taking the bar exam in Springfield this month.
Whatever the motivation, the incident prompted a necessary review that led the board to establish that headwear worn for religious or medical reasons is permitted, without any special approval. It’s a smart rule that will spare proctors from uncomfortable decisions and some law students from unnecessary anxiety.
Prior rules banned “hats, scarves, caps, hoods, bandannas, visors, costume headgear, or sunglasses” during bar exams — unless the test-taker was granted prior approval for religious or medical reasons. Iman Abdulrazzak, an observant Muslim, followed the rules. She got advance permission to wear a headscarf while taking the Massachusetts bar exam on Aug. 1 at Western New England School of Law. But, as the legal website Above the Law first reported, during the morning session of the high-stakes test, a proctor passed this note to Abdulrazzak: “Head wear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval . . . Please remove your head wear and place it under your desk for the afternoon session.”
Abdulrazzak never took off her head scarf and the problem was cleared up during the lunch break. However, she told the Globe’s Lisa Wangsness the distraction cost her 10 minutes in the morning session and she was unable to fully answer all the essay questions.
The rule against headwear is intended to prevent cheating. Theoretically, a hooded figure could disguise their identity and, for a fee, take the test for someone else. But people who wear headgear for religious reasons typically do so in their ID photos, as well. And even if not, proctors can be trained to give a little extra attention to verifying the identity of such students. It shouldn’t be a big deal — and the Board of Bar Examiners was wise to adjust its rules accordingly.