Two Muslim women who were arrested in New York City last year claim that police officers forced them to remove their hijabs to pose for mugshots, despite the women’s tearful objections that doing so would deeply violate their faith, reports the Huffington Post. Lawyers for Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz seeking unspecified damages and a change to current city policy that requires head coverings to be removed for the police department’s official photo ― even those coverings, like headscarves, that do not obscure a person’s face. “No New Yorker should be robbed of their right to practice their faith simply because they are arrested,” Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer representing the women, told HuffPost. “We want city-wide reform because too many New Yorkers have already suffered under our existing policy, forced to undress against their will.”Cahn, who is the legal director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, contends that the New York Police Department’s policy violates people’s right to religious freedom under the First Amendment and federal law. He said the lawsuit seeks to protect any New Yorker who wears religious head coverings that leave the face visible, including hijabs, yarmulkes, turbans and wigs. “Requiring a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in public is akin to demanding that a secular person strip naked in front of strangers,” the lawsuit argues. Currently, the NYPD’s patrol guide provides that arrestees who refuse to remove their religious head coverings for their official photo should be transported to police headquarters in Manhattan. There, the arrestee can have the picture taken in private by an officer of the same gender. The New York City Law Department said in a that it’s confident the current policy “passes constitutional muster.”
“It carefully balances the department’s respect for the customs of all religions with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos,” the law office said. “Persons who do not wish to remove religious head coverings in front of others have the option of being taken to a separate, more private facility to be photographed.” Clark, a Muslim woman from Cedar Grove, New Jersey, was arrested on Jan. 9, 2017, at Manhattan Family Court for violating a protective order. The lawsuit claims Clark’s abusive former husband had fabricated the charges underlying that order. The charges were later dismissed by prosecutors, The New York Times reports. According to the lawsuit, police officers ordered Clark to remove her hijab to pose for a booking photo. She told them that her religious beliefs barred her from removing her hijab in front of men who did not belong to her immediate family. Police then allegedly informed her that she would be prosecuted if she declined, and one officer made “numerous hostile comments about Muslims,” the lawsuit claims. After being taken to NYPD headquarters, Clark agreed to remove her hijab so that a female officer could take her photo in a private room. But Clark contends that the female officer subsequently showed the photo to approximately five male colleagues. “When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked. I’m not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt,” Clark said in a CAIR press release.
Her lawyers claim that the NYPD maintains at least one photograph of Clark without her hijab in its database. “The existence of this photograph haunts Ms. Clark, who is distressed by the prospect of the photograph being viewed again and again by men who are not members of her immediate family,” the lawsuit says.