Muslim Woman Sues San Bernardino County Over Religious Freedom in Jail

December 6, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org; (212) 549-2666

LOS ANGELES— A 29-year-old Muslim woman who was forced by deputies to remove her religious head covering  while she was in custody in San Bernardino County’s West Valley Detention Center, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Wednesday asserting that her religious freedom rights were violated under the First Amendment by San Bernardino county sheriff’s deputies.

Jameelah Medina, of Rialto, was arrested at the Pomona station of Metrolink’s commuter rail system on Dec. 7, 2005, for having an invalid train pass.  She was taken to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga for processing. 

Medina, who was born in the United States and raised in a Muslim family, wears a headscarf known as a hijab to cover her hair, ears, neck and part of her chest.  Many Muslim women, like Medina, believe that they should be covered at all times in the presence of men who are not members of their immediate family.

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 men she did not know and to remain uncovered for much of the day.

“I tried to tell the officer not to make me remove it because it is part of my religion,” said Medina. “Even after the officer had searched me and found nothing, she would not give me back my scarf.  I felt humiliated, exposed.”

Medina was never prosecuted in connection with this arrest.

The lawsuit is being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California.

“In this country, we have the right to practice our religion even when we are in jail or prison,” said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney for the Women’s Rights Project.  “San Bernardino County didn’t give Jameelah Medina any reason for forcing her to remove her headscarf, and there is no good reason.” 

Hector Villagra, Director of the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, who filed a similar case three months ago in the city of Orange, said other law enforcement agencies have procedures that allow Muslim women to wear the hijab.

“Other correctional systems, including the federal prisons, allow women to wear headscarves when they are in jail or prison, and San Bernardino County violated Jameelah Medina’s rights when they didn’t allow her to do so. If other jurisdictions can do it, so too can San Bernardino.”

The attorneys on the case are Ariela Migdal and Lenora Lapidus from the national ACLU Women's Rights Project, Hector Villagra and Ranjana Natarajan of the ACLU of Southern California, and Daniel Mach of the national ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. 

A copy of the complaint can be found at:
www.aclu.org/womensrights/gen/33010lgl20071206.html

 

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