NYPD policy forcing women to remove hijabs during booking photos sparks lawsuit

A lawsuit seeks to block the NYPD from forcing Muslim women to remove their hijabs when taking arrest booking photos.
A lawsuit seeks to block the NYPD from forcing Muslim women to remove their hijabs when taking arrest booking photos. Photo Credit: Van Leeuwen

The NYPD’s practice of requiring Muslim women to remove their hijabs while taking booking photos has prompted a class-action lawsuit.

A complaint was filed in the U.S. Southern District of New York on Friday by Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz, as well as the nonprofit Turning Point for Women and Families, alleging that the practice violates the Constitution, the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The plaintiffs are seeking to block the NYPD from further employing the policy, according to the complaint.

“Our city is quick to make progressive promises, but slow to enact reforms,” said Albert Fox Cahn, legal director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, along with the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECB). “It is intolerable that our officers force Muslim women to uncover against their will. It’s time for New York City to live up to our promise of being a sanctuary for all faiths – we’ve fallen short for too long.”

The complaint details similar experiences by Clark and Aziz. Both women said the forced removal of their hijabs while taking booking photos was humiliating and left them feeling exposed. For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab signifies modesty and a devotion to their faith.

Clark, who was arrested on charges of violating a protective order that were later dropped, said she sobbed in One Police Plaza as she stood with her hijab pushed down around her shoulders after officers threatened to prosecute her if she did not remove it, according to the complaint.

“When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked, I’m not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt,” Clark said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Aziz, a mother of two, said she also cried during her arrest when officers made her take off her hijab for a photo at central booking in Brooklyn. She had been arrested on the eve of the Eid holiday on charges that were later dismissed.

“I expected to be celebrating the holidays with my family, but instead I found myself being forced to undress in a room full of men, my beliefs being trampled,” she said in an emailed statement.

The NYPD has two policies – Patrol Guide Order 208-03 and 208-07 – that require women to remove religious head coverings for a booking photo, according to the lawsuit, even if it does not obstruct the person’s face.

A request for comment from the NYPD was not immediately returned. Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said they are reviewing the complaint.

“We will review the complaint, but we are confident that the police department’s religious head covering policy passes constitutional muster. It carefully balances the department’s respect for the customs of all religions with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos,” Paolucci said in an emailed statement. “Persons who do not wish to remove religious head coverings in front of others have the option of being taken to a separate, more private facility to be photographed.”

The city recently settled a similar lawsuit brought by three Muslim women for $180,000, according to CAIR-NY.