Should Muslim women have to remove their hijab for a mugshot? A woman is suing a Michigan county and sheriff’s office after they forced her to do just that – and then posted the photo online.
The woman says she felt violated and exposed by the actions of police, and the lawsuit describes her feeling almost as if she were “naked in a public space.”
Now, she’s hoping the legal system will punish the county and sheriff’s office that caused her an “insurmountable amount of humiliation and trauma.”
Under Cover Cops
On April 8, 2023, the woman was arrested by the Kent County, Michigan Sheriff’s Office following a domestic dispute with her husband.
While charges were ultimately not filed against her, she was required by law to take a booking photo upon entering the county jail. The woman was asked to remove her hijab, which she did because she feared “punishment and physical force by the officers” should she refuse.
The lawsuit says that the woman removed her hijab in front of male officers, despite her hesitations. However, the sheriff’s office disputes that account, and says that the woman was taken to a separate area by female officers.
“As she was being processed into the jail our female corrections officer took her out of view of all male officers and inmates and asked her to remove the head covering to inspect it for weapons or other restricted material, and then she was allowed to put it back on before entering the booking area,” the sheriff’s office stated. They also insisted that men were not present when the booking photo was taken either.
Not Picture Perfect
That's when things turned from bad to worse, though.
A separate booking photo was taken of her in the hijab. By the sheriff’s office’s own policy, that is the one that should have been posted online.
But it wasn’t. Instead, the photo of her out of hijab was posted on the department's website instead, for all the world to see – a grave violation of her religious practice.
As the lawsuit explains, “family and non-family members were able to access the image with a mere search of her name… The fact that it can be viewed again and again by men who are not members of her immediate family is haunting.”
“Exposed and Violated”
The Michigan woman’s lawsuit argued that, “like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab, [she] felt exposed and violated without hers.”
By the way, if this headline looks familiar, it's because this has happened before – and recently. Last year, a Tennessee woman faced a similar situation when she was forced to remove her hijab for a mugshot, and she, similarly, described herself as feeling “naked” without it.
Future of Police Hijab Policy
Religious freedom advocates generally agree that Muslim women who wear hijabs should not be forced to remove them for police mugshots, and more police departments across the nation are scrapping requirements they remove the garment.
Even setting aside the potential religious sensitivities at play, if the purpose of a mugshot is identification, they argue, shouldn’t women who wear hijabs in public be photographed with them on?
On the other hand, some police departments say that one simply cannot take an accurate photo with part of the head obscured. It’s not personal, they argue, and the same policy applies to any other possible religious headwear, including turbans and yarmulkes.
But what do you think? Was the woman’s religious freedom violated when she was coerced into taking a mugshot without her hijab? What about when the incorrect photo was posted online?