advertisement

St. Louis County jail urged to allow Islamic headscarves

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | 5:31 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A Muslim civil rights group is calling on St. Louis County to revise its policy that requires female Muslim inmates to remove religious headscarves, but the director of the jail said the headdress can pose a security risk.

Faizan Syed, director of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Tuesday that a 23-year-old Ballwin woman was jailed for about seven hours in January because of an unpaid traffic ticket. A jail officer ordered her to remove her traditional Islamic headdress, known as a hijab.

The woman refused because the Islamic religion forbids women from exposing their head or neck to men outside their immediate family. Syed said the female officer snatched the hijab from the woman's head in front of men — jail employees and male inmates. She spent the rest of her time in jail without the hijab.

"She was very emotionally distraught," Syed said. "For a Muslim woman, it's the equivalent to having her clothes removed in public by somebody else."

St. Louis County Justice Services director Herb Bernsen said jail policy forbids inmates from wearing anything on his or her head for security reasons, mostly out of concern that a weapon could be hidden in the scarf.

"We have to be concerned about security first," he said.

Syed said there are ways to ensure security without compromising a woman's religious beliefs. He said that in some jails, a woman is taken to a private room, removes the headscarf in the presence of a female jailer and is given a jail-issued head covering. As for mug shots, he said some jails take two photos — one with the head covering to be used publicly and one without for internal use only.

Bernsen said he has not been contacted by the council, but he is open to dialogue. He said he is also checking with jails around the country to see how they handle the issue.

Courts have ruled on both sides of the argument.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California Muslim woman's right to sue Orange County because its jailers forced her to remove the hijab.

In Minnesota last year, Amina Farah Ali was jailed after being convicted of conspiring to funnel money to terrorists with al-Shabab in Somalia. She refused to leave her jail cell in protest of a ban on headwear at the Sherburne County Jail. She was later moved to another jail where the head covering was permitted.

Syed said the council is willing to work with corrections officers to better understand Islam and Muslims. He said that, for now, the Ballwin woman is not considering a lawsuit, but wants the St. Louis County policy changed. She also wants an apology, he said.


Like what you see here? Become a member.


Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Comments

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.

advertisements