MARCH 16, 2011
In yet another case of political correctness run amok, a federal appellate court hasruled that a Muslim woman convicted of welfare fraud can sue a U.S. county for making her remove her religious headscarf in a holding cell.The case had previously been dismissed by two separate federal courts in California, but the woman’s legal team at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) kept appealing. This week the notoriously liberal and often reversed Ninth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 11-0 that the woman (Souhair Khatib) can sue southernCalifornia’s Orange County because her religious rights were violated when she was forced to take off her hijab.A three-judge panel from the same court had previously agreed with a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, but the ACLU asked the full court to rehear the case. In its new ruling the full Ninth Circuit says that a federal law guaranteeing religious freedom to prisoners applies to a courthouse holding cell where Khatib was ordered by deputies to remove her headscarf for security reasons.On a perpetual mission to appease Muslims, the Obama Administration joined Khatib in arguing that the law, enacted 2000, applies to pretrial cells like the one at the Orange County courthouse. County officials counter that it covers only prisons that hold inmates for substantial periods and not transitional cells where criminal suspects are kept for only a few hours.But the Ninth Circuit says “congress intended to safeguard the permissible religious observance of powerless persons incarcerated by the state” so the law should be interpreted broadly. It further points out in its ruling that “a Muslim woman who must appear before strange men she doesn’t know, with her hair and neck uncovered in a violation of her religious beliefs, may feel shame and distress.” This is precisely the sort of “mischief” the federal law intended to remedy, the court said.Khatib and her husband pleaded guilty to welfare fraud in 2006 and the couple was twice detained for probation violations. On both occasions the Khatibs were ordered into a holding cell for several hours while they awaited a court hearing. In her lawsuit against the county Khatib claims that she suffered a “deeply humiliating and defiling experience” when she was forced to remove her headscarf for security reasons at the Orange County Superior Courthouse.
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