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Can the police remove a hijab for any reason?

On Behalf of | Jun 13, 2024 | Police Brutality

Muslim women who wear hijabs do so for religious reasons, and it’s considered improper for them to expose their hair to men outside of certain immediate family members.

Unfortunately, that puts many hijabi women in direct conflict with the authorities when they’re arrested for minor offenses, such as illegal protests or other misdemeanor crimes. 

All over the nation, women are being forced to remove hijabs 

Three women in Dallas and four women in Arizona are among the latest women to report that they were forced to remove their religious head coverings either by male officers or in full view of male officers as part of their booking process. 

Authorities say that – even though the hijabs only cover the women’s hair – the police still require the head coverings to be removed so that they can properly search the defendant for everything from drugs and razor blades to firearms tucked in their hair. 

While that may be true, those who advocate for the civil rights of defendants everywhere point out that there’s rarely any justifiable reason that the women couldn’t have been taken into a private space by a female officer for that purpose. 

For their part, the women report that they felt humiliated and embarrassed. Many say they have suffered significant mental and emotional distress over the situation. For many Muslim women, appearing in front of a male non-relative without a head covering is the equivalent of disrobing in front of one – and that isn’t something they’d be subjected to in that kind of situation.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 is supposed to protect the religious freedom of people confined to institutions, like those being booked into a jail – but interpretations of what that means is quite variable when it comes to head coverings. 

Can the police force a Muslim woman to remove their hijab? Yes. Should they force her to remove it in front of male officers? No, not when there is an acceptable alternative that wouldn’t unduly burden the state. If you’ve experienced religious discrimination during an arrest or while incarcerated, it may be time to explore your legal rights.