Georgia Woman Arrested for Wearing Hijab to Court Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

12/16/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, US // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan

Douglasville, GA—The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman who was arrested and booked for contempt of court after she refused to remove her hijab, a religious headscarf. The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Georgia on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010 and names the city of Douglasville and the law enforcement officers who were involved in the incident as defendants, according to information provided by the Associated Press.

“I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs,” said Lisa Valentine, who is being represented by the ACLU’s Georgia division.

Valentine reportedly escorted her nephew to a court hearing in Douglasville in December 2008, but was stopped before making it past the metal detector. Officers allegedly ordered Valentine to remove her hijab, explaining that headgear was restricted inside the courtroom.

When Valentine declined to do so and began walking towards the exit, court officers apparently arrested her. She was brought before a municipal court judge and sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. She was released less than 24 hours later.

Valentine contended, “I had no idea I was in for such a humiliating experience… This is who I am. Without it, it’s like taking off my shirt. It’s like being stripped of something that’s part of me.” Hijabs are head coverings, which are warn as a means of preserving the modesty of Muslim women.

Although officers initially claimed they were merely attempting to uphold courtroom provisions, which included one to prohibit headgear, Douglasville Police Chief Joe Whisenant allegedly described the incident as a misunderstanding of sorts.

The ACLU’s pending civil rights lawsuit claims the city of Douglasville and Valentine’s arresting officers “demonstrated reckless indifference” to her civil rights. The suit adds that Valentine was forced to remove her Hijab when she was booked.

The incident spurred a Douglasville judge to order that “special previsions” be made for individuals wearing religious headgear. In July 2009, the Judicial Council of Georgia voted on the matter, leading to new rules that permitted religious and medical headgear to be worn inside Georgia courtrooms.

When asked about the pending civil rights litigation, Douglasville Mayor Mickey Thompson alleged, “This one’s a surprise because I think we had worked with Ms. Valentine and I thought her concerns were addressed.”

Unspecified punitive damages and attorneys’ fees are being sought out in connection with the said civil rights violations.

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan– Legal News for Georgia Civil Rights Lawyers.

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