The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) over allegedly forcing female inmates to remove their hijabs for their ID photos.
The lawsuit comes after more than 15 women claimed they were forced to remove their headscarves for booking photos. The inmates include Muslim women and those belonging to the Moorish Science religious movement.
An attorney for the Michigan chapter of CAIR, Amy Doukore, said the state's prison policy was not just a violation of religious rights but women's rights too.
"It's embarrassing, it is humiliating and it is degrading for Muslim women," she said. "The stripping of the hijab for a Muslim woman is equivalent of making a non-Muslim woman walk around topless or shirtless in front of men and then publishing them to a website."
The photos were not only displayed on the women's prison ID cards but also made publically available on the MDOC website.
Doukore has said that CAIR had tried to reach out to MDOC officials on more than one occasion since 2017 when the organisation started to receive complaints about the photograph policy from women housed at Huron Valley Correctional Facility.
"We have a dedication to our Muslim brothers and sisters facing incarceration to protect their religious liberties," she said. "They shouldn't have their religious freedoms taken from them. We take these issues very seriously, as this is important regardless of whether someone is incarcerated or not."
In a press release on Monday, CAIR Michigan's Executive Director Dawud Walid said MDOC's procedures for booking photos are a violation of the inmates' religious beliefs and freedoms, which are supposed to be protected under federal law.
"It is unfortunate and ironic that MDOC, which holds Americans in its custody for legal violations, is not following the law when it comes to reasonably accommodating the religious rights of Muslims."
The statement further explained that the lawsuit alleges that MDOC had violated the Muslim and Moorish Science women's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Michigan Constitution. The women are seeking declaratory relief, a permanent injunction against MDOC's discriminatory photograph policy and damages.