When a Muslim woman was incarcerated in the Lafayette Parish Jail last year, she was forced by the Sheriff to remove her religiously mandated head covering, known as a hijab, because jail policies do not provide for head coverings of any kind. Today the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to Lafayette Sheriff Michael W. Neustrom seeking a change of policy to allow jail inmates to wear head coverings mandated by their religious beliefs.
"For a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, being denied it is akin to being stripped naked," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "This woman asked nothing more than to wear religiously mandated garb, and she was denied that fundamental right. Louisiana law and the US Constitution, require governments to accommodate religious beliefs unless there is a compelling interest, which simply does not exist in this case."
The woman in question, arrested for traffic violations, asked Sheriff agents to allow her to wear her hijab in public and when men were present, to protect her modesty as her religion requires. Even that request was denied. "Even in prison, religion must be respected," said Esman. "There can be no reason to deny someone the basic right to wear religious garb. Governments, including Lafayette Parish, must do what they can to accommodate sincere religious beliefs, if religion is to thrive."
The ACLU has asked Sheriff Neustrom to amend his policies within fourteen days to accommodate religiously mandated head coverings.
A copy of the ACLU's letter is available online here.