Lisa Valentine's arrest on Tuesday is yet another example of the discrimination that Muslim women who wear hijab (headscarves) face on a daily basis. Valentine was told that she could not enter the courthouse in Douglasville, Georgia, unless she removed her hijab, and was jailed for contempt of court when she refused to do so. "I just felt stripped of my civil, my human rights," the AP reported Valentine saying. The ACLU of Georgia has expressed grave concern over policies that deny court access to Muslim women and followers of other faiths who wear religious headgear.
Muslim women and girls have been prohibited from wearing their headcoverings in a number of contexts. They have been fired from jobs, thrown off school sports teams, denied access to public places, and otherwise discriminated against because they wear hijab.
This isn't just a Muslim issue. This is also a women's rights and a human rights issue, because when Muslim women are denied the right to wear hijab, it's a statement that they are not free to choose how to express their beliefs. In a moving video we've just released, ACLU client, Jameelah Medina, spoke about her experience of being forced to remove her hijab in jail in San Bernardino County, California, and how it ignited her activism:
"How many times have we experienced discrimination or hate because we're a woman, because we're a Muslim woman…? But we don't speak up, we just accept it, and we say, 'Someone else will do it; someone else will stand up and they'll make a difference, then I'll join that fight.' …I look forward to working with and… inspiring other women: whatever the issue is in your communities, that you stand up and say, 'I'm going to be the one.'"
Jameelah gave this inspiring speech at a conference sponsored in November by the ACLU Human Rights Program entitled, "Keeping Your Faith in Post 9/11 America: Religious and Ethnic Discrimination and Human Rights," where advocates and members of the Muslim community gathered to discuss the various rights violations that Muslims have faced in recent years. Jameelah also blogged recently on Feministing about what wearing hijab means to her and why being forced to remove it was such a violation of her rights as a woman, generating quite a lively discussion.
To learn more about Muslim women's rights and other hijab cases the ACLU has handled, check out www.aclu.org/muslimwomen.