Medina v. County of San Bernardino
What's at Stake
On December 5, 2007, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jameelah Medina, a practicing Muslim woman who was forced by local deputies to remove her headscarf (hijab) while she was in custody in San Bernardino County’s West Valley Detention Center.
“I started wearing the hijab when I was 19 years old. I wanted to feel in charge of my own femininity and create my own empowerment as the gatekeeper of my own body. It all goes back to maintaining my sense of privacy and not making public what I perceive as intimate.
“When I was forced to remove my hijab, I felt embarrassment, injustice, shame, powerlessness, anger, and even rage. Most of all, I felt utterly humiliated and violated. The next day, I felt a sense of mobility like I had to file the complaint and take some action.
“Two and a half years after it all, I still have many of the same feelings, but I have most certainly learned that the shame is on those who violated my rights, not on me.”
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On December 5, 2007, the ACLU of Southern California, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jameelah Medina, a practicing Muslim woman who was forced by local deputies to remove her headscarf (hijab) while she was in custody in San Bernardino County’s West Valley Detention Center. Ms. Medina was arrested in 2005 at a Metrolink’s commuter rail system station for having an invalid train pass and was taken to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga for processing. Ms. Medina, who was born in the United States and raised in a Muslim family, wears a headscarf to cover her hair, ears, neck, and part of her chest in public and in the presence of men who are not her immediate family members, in accordance with her religious beliefs. Despite her repeated requests to keep her head covered during her day-long incarceration, she was forced to remove her hijab in the presence of male guards and to remain uncovered for much of the day. Ms. Medina was never prosecuted in connection with the arrest.
The ACLU sued the County and its officials for violating Ms. Medina’s rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA, which protects the religious rights of people confined to institutions), the California Constitution, and a California civil rights statute. Federal district Judge Virginia A. Phillips denied the County’s Motion to Dismiss in February 2008. In November 2008, in a court-approved settlement, the county agreed to change its policies to accommodate the religious practices of women who wear hijab, and trains its officers on the policy to ensure that no woman will be treated the way Ms. Medina was.
> Fact Sheet: Discrimination Against Muslim Women
> Muslim Woman Sues San Bernardino County Over Religious Freedom in Jail (12/6/2007)
> Blog: Court Allows Muslim Woman’s Headscarf Case to Proceed (2/27/2008)
> “Rialto Muslim woman’s headscarf lawsuit allowed to move forward,” Press Enterprise (2/25/2008)