A proposed civil rights class action looks to challenge a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) policy under which prisoners are forced to remove religious head coverings for mug shots.
Filed against several MDOC officials, the 26-page lawsuit says the photograph policy requires prisoners to remove all headgear for booking photographs regardless of their sincerely held religious beliefs. The photos are then maintained within MDOC’s system and uploaded to a publicly available website known as the Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS), the lawsuit explains.
The case argues MDOC’s photograph policy “alienates and oppresses” faith communities in Michigan’s prison system, violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and “lacks a penological justification,” and therefore must be changed. According to the suit, MDOC’s policy is a “substantial burden on religious practice” that is prohibited under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
According to the lawsuit, MDOC’s 2011 Prisoner Photographic Identification Policy requires that a photo be taken when an individual is processed into the MDOC and specifies that “headgear shall not be worn.” The suit contends that MDOC’s policy “contravenes national norms and practices” in that, from the federal to the local level, government and law enforcement agencies nationwide recognize the religious interest in wearing a hijab and permit it to be worn by those in custody for official photographs and in official government identification photos.
The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services do not require the removal of hats and head coverings worn for religious reasons in official photographs, and the Michigan Vehicle Code allows women to keep their hijab on while having their official driver’s license photograph taken as long as it does not touch their eyebrows, the case adds. Likewise, law enforcement agencies across the country have recognized the right of citizens to wear a hijab or other religious head covering while being photographed for official purposes, the lawsuit states, citing several settlements and policy changes that have protected the right of detainees to wear religious head coverings for booking photographs.
“Each of these examples reflects a growing national consensus that there is no basis to require the removal of religious head coverings for official government photographs,” the complaint argues.
The case charges that MDOC’s photograph policy forces Muslim and Moorish women to violate their religion. The hijab is worn because the Muslim faith dictates that no man outside a woman’s immediate family is permitted to see her uncovered hair, head and neck.
“Requiring a Muslim or Moorish woman to remove her hijab in public is akin to demanding that a secular person strip naked in front of strangers,” the complaint states.
Moreover, MDOC’s policy of taking photos of Muslim or Moorish women without their hijabs and posting the photos on a public database runs contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs and has had “an extensive and corrosive effect on Muslim-American and Moorish-American women in the state of Michigan,” the case asserts.
Further, the lawsuit contends that the MDOC photo policy feeds the widespread hostility toward Muslim-Americans that’s persisted in the nation’s post-9/11 climate instead of setting an example of increased awareness of and sensitivity to the community’s religious practices and interests.
The plaintiffs, two Muslim women who wear hijabs and a Moorish woman who wears a turban-style hijab, say they were forced to remove their religious head coverings to take official photographs pursuant to MDOC’s photograph policy. According to the suit, the women’s pictures were added to MDOC’s permanent public database and have been printed on identification cards that must be presented to male and female staff officers on demand.
Per the case, MDOC’s photograph policy has violated the plaintiffs’ and proposed class members’ constitutional and statutory rights.
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