CAIR Welcomes S.C. Jail’s New Policy Allowing Hijab

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/14/13) — The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today welcomed a decision by a South Carolina jail to allow female inmates to wear religious head coverings, called “hijab.”

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) made the request for a policy change following a complaint from a Muslim woman who was taken into custody on December 31, 2012, and was allegedly told to remove her hijab so she could have her booking photograph taken. The booking officer reportedly disregarded the woman’s religious concerns and “intimidated” her into removing her scarf in the presence of a male officer. The Muslim inmate’s husband was allegedly informed that “all Muslim women take off their scarves” when in custody.

In a letter to CAIR, Ronaldo D. Myers, director of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia, S.C., wrote:

“As requested, we have reviewed and updated our policies to ensure clarity with our staff on the processing and searching of female detainees of the Muslim faith, and specifically have exempted the wearing of religious headwear from our facility’s ‘Prohibited Acts’ policy.”

“We welcome the detention center’s decision to allow detainees to exercise their constitutionally-protected religious freedom,” said CAIR National Legal Director Nadhira Al-Khalili. “We have recently received reports of denial of religious rights at correctional institutions in other states and are working to achieve similarly positive resolutions in those cases.”

It’s not often a Muslim woman ends up in jail, say King County officials.  But, a few years ago, a woman was forced to remove her headscarf – or Hijab — during her one-night stay in jail. She described it as humiliating, similar to being forced to take off her clothes.

“This is a larger issue of how is our jail balancing peoples’ right to express their religion … even in a correctional environment,” says Jennifer Gist of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group for Muslims.

Jews and Sikhs have come to King County jails requesting they keep their headwear too. While the county jail and court staffs were open to accommodating religious beliefs, they did have some problems to solve.