March 28, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK -- The New York Civil Liberties Union, working with
the New York University Law School Civil Rights Clinic, filed a federal lawsuit
in Manhattan today challenging a Coast Guard regulation that withholds merchant
marine licenses from people who do not remove their religious head
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Khalid Hakim, a
devout Muslim who for nearly three decades has worn a kufi -- a knitted skull
cap worn by many Muslim men -- whenever he has been in public.
"Since September 11, American Muslims have experienced harassment
and pressure to change their religious observances," said Donna Lieberman,
Executive Director of the NYCLU. "Such tampering with a person's religious
practices is unacceptable -- and when our government does it, it's
According to the lawsuit, Hakim has served in the
merchant marine working for private shipping companies since 1973, and until
2001 he regularly received required licenses from the Coast Guard using
photographs in which he wore his kufi. But when Hakim first went to renew his
license after September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard told him that he would have to
remove his kufi for the photograph or forgo the license.
his license, Hakim was unable to work as a merchant marine for nearly a year.
Shortly before the filing of today's case, the Coast Guard without explanation
issued a new license to Hakim, but continues to insist that as a matter of
policy there are no exceptions to its regulation. Hakim lives in fear that he
will be denied his license renewal again when this license expires, and many
others may be denied licenses under the Coast Guard
"Religious tolerance is as important after 9/11 as it
was before 9/11," said Christopher Dunn, NYCLU Associate Legal Director.
"Government policies that needlessly violate religious beliefs are wrong and
Hakim has worked as a merchant marine since he was 25
years old. His lifelong interest in seafaring began in grade school, when he
read "Shackleton's Valiant Voyage," a story about a small-boat expedition to the
The merchant marine consists of commercial ships that
transport cargo in U.S. waters and on the seas. Seamen like Hakim are not
members of the military, but they must hold a Merchant Mariner's Documents
(MMDs) from the Coast Guard in order to sail in U.S. waters.
NYCLU brings its action against the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the officer in charge of
regulations at the Coast Guard Examination Center.
students Bukola Aina, Deepa Varma, and Katherine Worden are working with the
NYCLU’s Dunn as counsel on Hakim's case. The NYCLU's complaint is available at: www.nyclu.org