(MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 3/20/14) - The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today welcomed a new Hennepin County policy that will allow religious headwear, including hijabs (Islamic head scarves), in jails and booking photos. Hennepin County is the first in the state to create a comprehensive policy on religious headwear.
CAIR-MN received cases recently from Muslim women arrested for unpaid traffic fines, protests and other relatively minor crimes who were denied the hijab in booking photos and provided inadequate religious accommodations in jail.
"We welcome this new policy on religious headwear as another example of Hennepin County showing leadership and setting positive precedents for other counties," said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla. "The new religious headwear policies sends a strong message throughout the state that, regardless of who the individual is or what their situation, we must uphold our principles and follow the law."
Ms. Abd Alla said both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against incarcerated individuals based upon religion.
In a December 24, 2013 letter to Hennepin County Sheriff Richard W. Stanek, CAIR-MN wrote:
"Our organization received a complaint from a Muslim woman who was booked and incarcerated in the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center (also known as the Hennepin County Jail) located at 401 South 4th Avenue, Suite 100, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415 in August 2013. She has sincerely held religious beliefs that support her wearing a hijab (religious headscarf). While she was in the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, she was ordered to remove her hijab for the booking photograph and was not allowed to wear the hijab while she was in jail. She was given two t-shirts to cover her head and arms, which she appreciated but it did not adequately substitute for a hijab.
"The Hijab is not an accessory. Muslim women who wear the hijab sincerely believe it is a religious obligation. To a Muslim woman, asking her to remove her hijab can be equated to asking her to remove her shirt. Hennepin County jail should establish policies that would allow Muslim women inmates and inmates of other religions to follow their religion and balance the safety of those inmates, other inmates and county employees.
"There is nothing in the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Admissions/ Booking Process Policy 12 – 100 about accommodation for religious head coverings. In the Sallyport section of the policy, there is a provision that states that "ersonal clothing items that may be cultural in nature will be subject to removal as determined by a custody supervisor based on the safety, security, and good order of the facility." Presently under these policies, inmates are not allowed to wear hijabs during the booking photograph or while incarcerated. Providing alternative means of covering an inmate's head such as the t-shirts our client was given, appears to be an unwritten discretionary policy."
CAIR-MN provided Hennepin County with sample policies from county jails around the country to help them develop "policies that allow inmates to follow their religion and still satisfy safety concerns."
Hennepin County agreed to provide jail-issued hijabs and other religious headgear to individuals who request it.
In 2011, CAIR-MN asked the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office to accommodate a Muslim woman's religious beliefs and let her wear a hijab in jail. The jail refused and the woman was transferred.
SEE: Group asks Sherburne County sheriff to allow woman's headscarf in jail (Pioneer Press)
CAIR-MN is working to implement religious headwear policies in jails and booking photos across the state.
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.
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CONTACT: CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya, 612-327-6700, email@example.com; CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla, 612-206-3360, firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, email@example.com