ACLU Sues City Over Muslim Head Covering
The lawsuit alleges a woman's rights were violated when she was arrested two years ago and charged with contempt of court.
The Georgia ACLU sued the city of Douglasville and three police officers today on behalf of a Muslim woman who says her rights were violated in Douglasville Municipal Court during an incident in December 2008.
Lisa Valentine, a Douglas County resident, was told she could not enter the courtroom while wearing a Muslim headdress and was handcuffed and jailed when she protested.
Valentine was accompanying a nephew to a traffic hearing and was told it was against court policy to wear a head covering in court. She protested while attempting to leave. Officers arrested her, removed her headgear and jailed her for several hours on a charge of contempt of court.
"By locking up Ms. Valentine and forcing her to remove her head covering in public, officers not only showed extreme indifference to her fundamental right to practice her faith, but also humiliated her and caused her unnecessary emotional suffering," ACLU lawyer Azadeh Shahshahani said in a news release.
Shahshahani said the ACLU is suing in U.S. District Court for "the wrong Ms. Valentine suffered because of the violation of her First and Fourth Amendment rights. We're seeking a redress to see that the Douglasville Municipal Court specifically adopts the policy that was recommended by the Georgia Judicial Council or any policy where a person of faith's First Amendment rights are respected."
The three arresting officers named as defendants in the lawsuit are city police Officers Laura Mullis, David Camp and James Meinke.
After the arrest and release Dec. 16, 2008, the court's chief judge issued a rule in January 2009 allowing for "special provisions" for those who wish to wear religious head coverings in the courtroom.
Thanks in part to testimony by Valentine, the Georgia Judicial Council issued a nonbinding policy in July 2009, recommending Georgia courthouses allow the wearing of religious head coverings.
City Clerk Joyce Stone had no comment, saying she had not seen the lawsuit. Other city officials, including Mayor Mickey Thompson, have not returned phone calls or e-mails yet.
Valentine was sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. She spent several hours in the courthouse and the jail, then was released that evening after police determined that her resistance was only verbal and not physical.
"I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs," Valentine said in the ACLU news release.
"Ms. Valentine's treatment by these officers and the judge was plainly unlawful and simply wrong," Daniel Mach, the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, also said in the release. "The government should never intrude on anyone's basic right to observe her faith, let alone throw her in jail for asserting her right to do so."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages and requests a jury trial.