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CAIR-MI sues MDOC in federal court over hijab photo policy

Women's prison
Michigan Department of Corrections

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, filed alawsuit Monday against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Muslim and Moorish Science women who are being housed primarily at the MDOC's Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Pittsfield Township.

According to the complaint, the MDOC has a policy that forces female inmates to remove their religious head scarves, known as hijabs, to have an ID photo taken.The MDOC then places the photo on the women's identification cards which the women are requird to present to male and female guards and staff. 

The complaint also claims that the MDOC keeps the photos in a permanent public database and posts them on an MDOC website where members of the public can see them.

The lawsuit alleges that the MDOC's photo policy violates the sincerely held religious belief of female inmates of Muslim and Moorish faith that they must cover in front of men they're not closely related to.

It alleges that the MDOC has violated the women's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, under the Michigan Constitution and under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief, a permanent injuction against the MDOC's photograph policy, money damages, and class certification.

"There's a lot of people who really believe that once you're incarcerated, you lose all of your constitutional rights, and that's just inaccurate," said Amy Doukoure, staff attorney for CAIR-MI, "The ability to practice your sincerely held religious belief without government interference is intact even for incarcerated persons."

Doukoure said CAIR-MI is involved in the litigation "because we want to make sure the religious liberty of everybody is protected because if we allow the erosion of liberties for one group based on their status, it inherently will trickle down and begin to erode the rights of all of us."

Doukoure said CAIR-MI has reached out repeatedly to MDOC officials since spring of 2017 when the organization began to receive complaints about the photograph policy from women housed at Huron Valley Correctional Facility. She said the MDOC has been unwilling to engage in any discussions with CAIR-MI about the policy.

A spokesperson for the MDOC said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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