NEW YORK – Two arrested Muslim women who said the police department forced them to remove their religious head coverings and pose for mugshots sued the city on Friday to try to change the practice.
The women and an advocacy group, Turning Point for Women and Families, are seeking class action status with the Manhattan federal court lawsuit.
"Requiring a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in public is akin to demanding that a secular person strip naked in front of strangers," said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and a declaration that the city's handling of police photographs is unconstitutional.
The city's law office said it would review the lawsuit.
"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," the office said in a 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."
According to the lawsuit, the New York Police Department policy failed miserably to protect the rights of Jamilla Clark, of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and Arwa Aziz, of Brooklyn. Clark was arrested on Jan. 9, 2017, and Aziz was arrested on Aug. 30, 2017.
The lawsuit said Clark sobbed at police headquarters with her hijab pushed down around her shoulders after she was arrested for violating a bogus protective order filed by her abusive ex-husband, who had fabricated the charges to secure immigration status as a purported victim of domestic violence. It said police officers had threatened to prosecute Clark if she did not remove the head covering.
"Like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab, Ms. Clark felt exposed and violated without hers — as if she were naked in a public space," the lawsuit said, adding that a police officer openly mocked the Muslim faith.
The lawsuit said Aziz sobbed in a Brooklyn building with her head covering pushed down around her shoulders after she was arrested for violating a bogus protective order filed by a vindictive sister-in-law. It said Aziz felt broken when her picture was taken where a dozen male police officers and more than 30 male inmates could see her.
It said the police policy violates the First Amendment and federal and state laws.
Clark faces a hearing on April 16. A hearing for Aziz was held on Feb. 28.