After six years of litigation, Orange County settled a religious discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her traditional head scarf while she was in a courthouse holding cell, the ACLU announced today.
Orange County officials will no longer require Muslim women in custody to remove their head scarf, known as a hijab, said attorney Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Said plaintiff Souhair Khatib of Anaheim: "I praise Allah and thank Him that I live in a country where I can practice my religion freely. While not everyone understands Islam or what it requires of me, I'm grateful that the U.S. government protects my right to fulfill my duty to Allah, whether at work, on a public street or, yes, even in a sheriff's holding facility."
Law enforcement officers will be trained about ordering Muslim women to remove hijabs, and the county will pay $85,000 in damages, fees and court costs.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department issued this statement:
"The Orange County Sheriff's Department respects the constitutionally guaranteed religious rights of all persons. As agreed to in the settlement, we have implemented new policies and conducted training with our personnel specific to the wearing of religious head garments. These changes will ensure the security needs of our custodial facilities are met and at the same time respect the religious freedoms of those held in our custody.
"In addition, the department has established a quarterly meeting with our religious volunteers from the various faiths, including Islam, to ensure our personnel are sensitive to the needs of our inmate population and to find ways to enhance the services they provide.
"Maintaining the balance of Constitutional guarantees with the safety and well-being of those entrusted into our custody is a dynamic undertaking and we will continue to work with our community partners to meet that challenge."
Sheriff's deputies had Khatib remove her hijab twice while in a holding cell at the North County Justice Center in Fullerton. They wanted the scarf removed, because it could be considered a weapon.
The lawsuit was filed in 2007 and came before U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana, who sided with county officials.
A panel of federal appellate justices agreed with Carter in May 2010, but in December 2010 the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 11-0 to reverse Carter's ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case in October 2011.
"It's a landmark settlement," Rosenbaum told City News Service.
"It means religious freedom doesn't stop at the courthouse door. Muslim women inside the facility will be allowed to honor their religious views without having to sacrifice them to the security concerns of Orange County law enforcement."
Rosenbaum commended Orange County officials for settling.
"It's a terrific victory, especially a post-9/11 victory for Muslims," Rosenbaum said. "It's another way of saying we're all equal under the Constitution."
- City News Service
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