In March 2011, ACLU-TN was contacted by a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her hijab, a religious headscarf, for a booking photo at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office after being cited for a minor traffic-related charge.
The woman had tried for hours to explain to officers that, according to her religious beliefs, she must remain covered at all times in public and especially in the presence of men. The sheriff’s office told her that if she did not remove her hijab she would be subject to arrest, despite the fact that her headscarf in no way obscured her face and she was able to wear it in the photograph on her driver’s license. The booking photo was then posted in a database accessible not only to law enforcement, but to the general public via Tennessee’s Open Records law.
Muslim women, like all people in the United States, have the right to practice their religion, including wearing headscarves and other religious dress. This right should be accommodated in all situations to the greatest degree possible. In addition to the protections of the First Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessee Preservation of Religious Freedom Act bars government entities from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion, unless it is the “least restrictive means” for achieving an “essential governmental interest” — neither of which was true in this case.
ACLU-TN immediately intervened and the photo was removed and replaced with a photo of the woman wearing her hijab. ACLU-TN also requested that the sheriff implement a written policy that ensures that the religious freedom rights of all detainees are respected.
The sheriff’s office responded to ACLU-TN’s concerns and the policies on booking photos for arrests and citations, security for all courthouses, and religious head coverings in jails were revised to include exemptions for religious head coverings.
Revised DCSO Policy (August 19, 2011)
Revised Juvenile Courthouse Policy (May 2, 2011)