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Federal lawsuit accuses Dearborn police of violating Muslim woman's religious freedom

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A Muslim woman says the Dearborn Police Department violated her constitutional rights when officers forced her to remove her headscarf.

Maha Aldhalimi is suing the city of Dearborn, the police department, police chief Ronald Haddad, and the officers who arrested her last September.

Aldhalimi was arrested on a warrant stemming from an unpaid parking violation. She was forced to removed her headscarf, known as hijab, “reluctantly, involuntarily, and against her sincerely-held religious belief,” according to her federal lawsuit.

“Defendants’ policy, practice, and customs of forcing Muslim women to remove their hijabs while being processed into police custody is unlawful and infringes upon the right of Plaintiff and other Muslim women to freely exercise their religion without it being substantially burdened by the government,” the lawsuit claims.

Fatina Abdrabboh, director of the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, says federal law and recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions make it clear that police must reasonably accommodate a suspect’s “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

Abdrabboh says there was no public safety rationale for not doing that here.

“She could have been fully identified with her headscarf. She presented no threat,” she said. “This woman was arrested for a parking violation."

The lawsuit is “about government respect of deeply held and undeniable religious freedom,” Abdrabboh said. It seeks damages, and changes to Dearborn police policy when it comes to hijab removal.

Abdrabboh called the lawsuit a “last resort” after efforts to discuss an appropriate hijab policy with the city were rebuffed. “It’s unfortunate  … Dearborn did not attempt to dialogue or meet us halfway,” she said.

Representatives for Dearborn Police and the city declined to comment on the case.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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