(ANAHEIM, CA, 5/7/2018) – The Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), in conjunction with Erin Darling Law, today announced the filing of a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Muslim woman who had her religious head scarf (hijab) forcibly removed by Ventura County deputy sheriffs.
CAIR-LA’s lawsuit alleges violations under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and the California Constitution.
Jennifer Hyatt, 44, was arrested on Jan. 1, 2017, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., after being involved in a domestic dispute. At the Ventura County Jail, Hyatt was told by the deputies that she would have to remove her head scarf. Hyatt made several requests to continue wearing her hijab or be provided an alternative head covering.
However, in violation of Hyatt’s religious beliefs, one deputy allegedly snatched one piece of Hyatt’s two-piece hijab off her head while male deputies were in the room. Hyatt was then taken to another holding room where she again informed deputies that she was a practicing Muslim woman and based on her faith she could not be seen by other men without her hijab. A deputy then reportedly replied, “Not in here, you’re not.”
Despite having already been searched, and after Hyatt asserted her request to continue wearing her hijab deserving of constitutional protection, a second deputy allegedly violently removed the second part of her hijab. Hyatt was left fully exposed through a glass wall, thus allowing any passerby to see her without her hijab.
“While municipalities across the country are allowing arrestees to retain religious head coverings, California municipalities are slow to enact policies that prevent the discrimination this lawsuit seeks to expose,” said CAIR-LA Civil Rights attorney Marwa Rifahie. “It has become far too common to hear about law enforcement forcibly removing a Muslim woman’s hijab.”
“It is shocking that in 2018 the County of Ventura permits its sheriff’s deputies to strip a Muslim woman of her religious head covering,” said civil rights and criminal defense attorney Erin Darling. “Religious expression is protected under the law and the County of Ventura cannot single out Muslim women as being undeserving of this basic right.”
“I was spoken to like I was trash and deserved everything that was happening to me while in custody,” said Jennifer Hyatt, the Plaintiff in the lawsuit. “My hijab was yanked off my head in front of many men despite my continued requests to wear it, I felt naked and humiliated the entire duration of my custody. I am seeking justice because I do still have the right to be a covered Muslim woman””even in jail.”
Two years ago, CAIR-LA filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman who had her hijab forcibly removed by a male officer of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD).
After the suit was filed, the LBPD amended its policy in November 2017 to accommodate religious head coverings for persons in custody. Long Beach joins neighboring jurisdictions of San Bernardino County and Orange County, which both adopted policies protecting religious headwear in detention following similar lawsuits that settled in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
SEE: California Muslims sue over hijab discrimination
CAIR offers a booklet, called “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community,” which outlines basic information about Islamic beliefs that are relevant to law enforcement. It also covers issues such as the rights of Muslim law enforcement officers, religiously-sensitive techniques for body searches, proper etiquette for entering Muslim homes, and advice on outreach to the Islamic community.
SEE: A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community
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-LA Communications Manager Eugene W. Fields, 714-776-1847 or email firstname.lastname@example.org