(ATLANTA, GA, 1/10/18) -- The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) today thanked the City of Atlanta Detention Center for agreeing to permit inmates who cover their hair for religious reasons -- including Muslim women -- to do so while detained.
"We thank the City of Atlanta for agreeing to a policy that protects religious freedom, as well as the jail's security," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR-Georgia. "We also commend our former outreach director, Asma Elhuni, who sparked the effort to update jail policy when she bravely defended her constitutional rights."
Last year, Atlanta Police Department officers arrested Elhuni and other protesters during a demonstration outside the Atlanta headquarters of Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE). When jail staff instructed Elhuni to remove her hijab, she initially refused to do so, citing her sincerely held religious beliefs, before eventually relenting.
On behalf of CAIR-Georgia, Mitchell and Elhuni later met with City of Atlanta Detention Center Chief Patrick Labat and other jail staff to seek a policy that would allow inmates to wear hijab.
Jail officials expressed concern that inmates could use the scarves to harm themselves, or that other inmates could use the scarves to harm inmates who wear them.
As a compromise, CAIR-Georgia identified alternative scarves that cannot easily be used for any purpose aside from covering a person's hair. The jail has approved one of those scarves, which CAIR-Georgia is providing to the jail in-bulk free-of-charge.
"Although it is exceedingly rare for such women to go to jail at all, it is increasingly common for people of faith -- including Catholic nuns, Muslim women, Sikhs, and others -- to deliberately risk arrest as part of a civil rights protest," said Mitchell. "Everyone who covers their hair for religious reasons can benefit from this change, which brings the Atlanta jail up to speed with policies in other jails across the country.”
During the 2017 Atlanta mayoral campaign, most candidates -- including Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms -- pledged, in writing, to permit people of faith to cover their hair while detained in the jail.
The only other outstanding issue is whether female inmates can take their booking photographs outside the presence of male staff or male inmates.
CAIR-Georgia is asking the jail to give Muslim women, and other inmates who cover their hair for religious reasons, the option of taking their photos in the presence of only female inmates and female staff.
Other jails have enacted similar policies. For example, some jails take two photographs: one with the scarf, and one without the scarf. Only female guards are present when the photo is taken.
The photograph without the scarf is never shared with the media or the public, only appearing in the inmate's criminal record. This avoids the problem of unnecessarily violating the inmate's religious beliefs.
"Jails and prisons across Georgia should enact similar religious accommodations," Mitchell said.
The Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization has successfully defended the religious rights of Muslim inmates in a number of cases.
Mitchell noted that CAIR offers an educational toolkit called "A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," to help correctional officers and administrators gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.
CAIR offers an app to share critical “know your rights” information and to simplify the process to report hate crimes and bias incidents. CAIR is urging American Muslims and members of other minority groups to download the app and utilize this resource to stay informed and empowered. For a quick download of CAIR’s civil rights app, click here:http://www.cair.com/app
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
La misión de CAIR es mejorar la comprensión del Islam, fomentar el diálogo, proteger las libertades civiles, capacitar a los musulmanes estadounidenses, y construir coaliciones que promuevan la justicia y la comprensión mutua.
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CONTACT: CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell; 404-285-9530; firstname.lastname@example.org