Georgia woman arrested for wearing headscarf in court files lawsuit

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLUGA) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Tuesday on behalf of a Muslim woman who was arrested for refusing to remove her headscarf [JURIST news archive], or hijab, in court. Lisa Valentine was arrested in December 2008 and ordered to serve 10 days in jail [JURIST report] for contempt of court after she refused to remove her headscarf upon entering a security checkpoint in an Atlanta courtroom. Douglasville Municipal Court [official website] Judge Keith Rollins found Valentine in contempt for violating a court policy that prohibits wearing headgear in court. Valentine, who also goes by her Islamic name Miedah, was released from jail later in the day after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [advocacy website] called on the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to investigate the incident [press release], although jail officials did not confirm their reason for letting her go. The ACLUGA claims that the defendants, the city of Douglasville and the arresting officers, violated Valetine's First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act [text]. According to the complaint, "[a]s a result of Defendants' conduct, Mrs. Valentine suffered, and continues to suffer, extreme humiliation, shame, mental anguish, and emotional distress."

The wearing of religious attire in courtrooms and other public places has been a controversial subject. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a Muslim woman's religious rights were not violated by police officers when she was forced to remove her headscarf while being detained in a holding cell. In April, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit against a Michigan judge who ordered a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf in court. The suit [complaint, PDF] was filed by CAIR on behalf of Raneen Albaghdady against Judge William Callahan of the Wayne County Circuit Court. Last year, a Spanish lawyer filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the General Council of the Judiciary [official website, in Spanish] alleging abuse of power and discrimination after a National Court judge asked her to leave the courtroom for declining to remove her hijab.

 

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