Georgia City Agrees to Adapt Courthouse Security Screenings to Accommodate Religious Head Coverings

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Robyn Shepherd, ACLU national, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia, (404) 574-0851; ashahshahani@acluga.org
Kate Barth, Carlton Fields, (813) 229-4154; kbarth@carltonfields.com

 

Georgia City Agrees to Adapt Courthouse Security Screenings to Accommodate Religious Head Coverings

Muslim Woman Sued City After Being Jailed for Protesting Policy Forcing Her to Remove Headscarf

ATLANTA, Ga. - The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia and the law firm of Carlton Fields secured a settlement from the city of Douglasville, Ga. today on behalf of a Muslim woman who was told she could not enter a municipal courtroom unless she removed her religious headgear and was jailed for contempt of court and forced to remove her headscarf when she protested.

According to today’s settlement, Douglasville has adopted a screening policy allowing people who enter the courthouse wearing a religious headcovering the option to be screened in a private area by an officer of the same gender and ensures that people who wear religious headcoverings will not be forced to remove it in public and may wear their religious headcoverings in the courtroom.

In December 2008, Lisa Valentine attempted to accompany her nephew to his traffic hearing before the Douglasville Municipal Court but was told it was against court policy to wear headgear in court. After she protested and attempted to leave, officers restrained and arrested her, forced her to remove her head covering, and jailed her for several hours.

“We are glad that the city of Douglasville has acknowledged that the way that Ms. Valentine was treated was inexcusable and unlawful,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the ACLU of Georgia. “No one should feel singled out in a court of law simply for observing her faith.”

“The ACLU is fighting hard to secure religious freedom throughout the United States, and Carlton Fields was very pleased to be a part of its crusade by assisting Ms. Valentine with her case,” said Gail Podolsky, an attorney with Carlton Fields.

Following Valentine’s arrest, the judge issued a rule allowing for “special provisions” to be made for those who choose to wear religious head coverings in the courtroom, and the city of Douglasville issued a press release admitting that the officer who stopped Valentine did not inform her of an alternative procedure that would have allowed her to keep her head covering. In July 2009, the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a non-binding policy clarifying that religious head coverings can be worn in Georgia courthouses.

According to today’s settlement, Douglasville has adopted a screening policy allowing people who enter the courthouse wearing a religious headcovering the option to be screened in a private area by an officer of the same gender and ensures that people who wear religious headcoverings will not be forced to remove it in public and may wear their religious headcoverings in the courtroom.

“I am glad that Douglasville has agreed to formal policies to make sure this never happens to anyone else.” said Valentine. “Acknowledging that I was improperly treated was the least that my city could do.”

“The idea that everyone is equal before the law is a hallmark of American justice, so nobody should be treated unfairly when she enters a courthouse,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These simple provisions will ensure that Muslim women receive the same respect and access to civic participation as anyone else.”

“Any government – local, state or federal – should expect to be held accountable when it intrudes on someone’s right to observe her faith,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “That is why today’s settlement is so important.”

The policy can be viewed at:  www.aclu.org/religion-belief/valentine-v-city-douglasville-valentine-headcovering-policy

For more information on this case, please visit: www.aclu.org/religion-belief-womens-rights/valentine-v-city-douglasville

 

 

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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