A 27-year-old Muslim woman is suing the Dearborn Heights Police Department in Michigan after officers allegedly forced her to remove her headscarf while taking a booking photo for a traffic misdemeanor, claiming that their actions violated her right to religious expression.
According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, police stopped Malak Kazan on July 9 for a traffic violation in Dearborn Heights. While examining Kazan’s documents, an officer noticed that her license had been suspended and she was arrested for a traffic misdemeanor. She was then taken to the police department, where she was allegedly asked to remove her headscarf, or hijab, for her booking photo.
Kazan told the officer she could not remove her hijab because it would be in violation of her religious faith. According to the lawsuit, the officer replied that “the prohibition on headscarf was the policy and that there were no exceptions.” When Kazan reiterated her concerns, the officers suggested she speak with his supervisor, who similarly “demanded she remove her headscarf.” Kazan then allegedly requested that a female officer take the photo, which was denied and was threatened with a longer detention if she did not comply with the officers’ demands.
“The prohibition on Ms. Kazan’s use of a religious headcovering pursuant to the above-described custom, practice, or policy violated her right to the free exercise of her religion, violated her rights under federal law, and caused her extreme mental and emotional distress,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction requiring the police department to change its policy to allow headscarves worn for religious purposes and training about the change.
In an interview with Fox 2, Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin said that the department requires people to remove headcoverings for safety purposes. “Articles such as hats, caps, hijabs, can contain concealable items that could pose a threat or chance of injury to the cops or to themselves.”
“Your religious freedoms are not stripped at the jailhouse door,” replied Kazan’s attorney Amir Makled. “It’s part of the cannons of the Muslim faith for a woman to wear a headscarf. For her to have it removed in front of a non-relative male would be a very unpleasant situation for her.”
This is not the first discriminatory claim filed against the Dearborn Heights Police Department. In December, a family filed a lawsuit against the police department for religious and ethnic discrimination, claiming the police made anti-Arab remarks and retaliated against them when they complained.
In an interview with The Arab American News, Kazan said that she hopes the lawsuit will prevent other Muslim women from enduring the events she went through.
“I honestly don’t want other women to be put in my position, where they are forced to take off their scarf in front of men they don’t know,” she said. “I’ve worn my scarf for 12 years and my religion says that I can’t take it off. It’s not just a religious issue; this is a part of me. It’s my culture, my life and my identity.”