Souhair Khatib Can Sue County of Orange for Having to Remove Her Hijab: U.S. Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld an Orange County woman's right to sue the County of Orange for its jailers making her remove her hijab, or traditional Islamic headdress, in a Santa Ana courthouse holding cell in 2006.

The high court essentially rejected an appeal by the county of a March ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found in favor of Souhair Khatib.

Khatib, who emigrated from Lebanon and later became a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty alongside her husband in June 2006 to a misdemeanor welfare fraud, for which they were ordered to perform 30 hours of community service each while on probation.

When the couple went to court to ask for an extension of the community service deadline, a judge revoked their probation and put them in holding cells, where deputies, citing security concerns, ordered Khatib to remove her headscarf, which is known as a hijab.

She was then dragged back before the judge without her hijab. The judge then extended the deadline and restored her probation.

Khatib, noting her religion forbids her from exposing her head or neck to men outside her immediate family, in November 2006 sued the County or Orange and several officials for damages under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which allows prisoners to wear religious garments as long as they do not pose security risks.

Federal judges in two previous trials ruled against Khatib, noting that federal law makes an exception for inmates in prison cells. But the Ninth Circuit, and now the Supremes, agree that the woman was in a temporary holding facility, not a prison cell, and was thus protected by the federal act.

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