Huffpost Los Angeles

Woman's Forced Headscarf Removal Causes Lawsuit

Posted: Updated:
WOMAN HEADSCARF REMOVAL
Getty

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will let a Muslim woman sue Southern California jailers for making her take off her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.

The court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from Orange County, Calif., officials, who were sued in 2007 by Souhair Khatib.

Khatib had gone to the Orange County Superior Court to ask for more time to complete her community service. But a judge ordered her jailed, and jailers forced Khatib to remove her head scarf.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that holding cells aren't covered by a federal law protecting the religious practices of prisoners. It also ruled Khatib had the right to wear the scarf unless jailers could show it was a security risk.

David Lawrence, an attorney representing Orange County, said he could not comment.

Khatib's attorney, Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the case will now go back to district court but he hopes it can be resolved outside the courtroom. Khatib filed the original lawsuit to get the sheriff's department to end their ban on head scarves in holding cells, he said.

"I think it's a pretty blatant example of discrimination against Muslims ... and Orange County can run its facility without this ban," he said in a phone interview.

Khatib and her husband, both U.S. citizens of Lebanese descent, pleaded guilty in 2006 to a misdemeanor violation of welfare fraud and were sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to complete 30 days of community service within 120 days.

The two reported to court on Nov. 1, 2006, two days before that term expired, to seek an extension. When the judge learned she had completed only 15 hours of service and her husband four, he ordered them jailed, according to Khatib's original lawsuit.

She and her husband were released later in the day after the court entered a new judgment ordering them to complete their community service by Jan. 30, 2007.

The case was Orange County, Calif., v. Souhair Khatib, 10-1505.