For Immediate Release
ACLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Muslim Woman Forced To Remove Head Covering In Georgia Courthouse
Lisa Valentine Jailed After Protesting Policy That Violated Her Religious Liberty
ATLANTA - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia filed a lawsuit
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 when she protested.
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
protesting and while attempting to leave, officers restrained and
arrested her, forced her to remove her head covering and jailed her for
"By locking up Ms. Valentine and forcing her to remove her head
covering in public, officers not only showed extreme indifference to her
fundamental right to practice her faith, but also humiliated her and
caused her unnecessary emotional suffering," said Azadeh Shahshahani, an
attorney with the ACLU of Georgia.
After being informed by an officer that she would have to remove her
head covering, Valentine attempted to leave the courthouse and expressed
her frustration with the policy to the officer. She was prevented from
leaving, handcuffed and taken before the judge who sentenced her to 10
days in jail for contempt of court. Valentine was then taken to the
booking area, where she was made to remove her head covering. She was
detained first at the temporary holding facility at the courthouse and
then in jail for several hours without her head covering before police
determined that Valentine did not fight with officers and that her
"actions were primarily verbal and her resistance passive." She was
released that evening.
"I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type
of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of
the expression of my beliefs," said Lisa Valentine.
"Ms. Valentine's treatment by these officers and the judge was plainly
unlawful and simply wrong," said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The government should never
intrude on anyone’s basic right to observe her faith, let alone throw
her in jail for asserting her right to do so."
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 policy clarifying
that religious head coverings can be worn in Georgia courthouses. The
policy, which balances courts' security concerns with individuals'
fundamental right to religious liberty, was presented by the ACLU of
Georgia to the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness
in the Courts at a June 2009 meeting. Valentine testified about her
experience during the council meeting. The policy serves as a
recommendation to courthouses, and is not binding.
"Everyone who comes into a courtroom should feel that they are equal in
the eyes of the law," said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney for the ACLU
Women's Rights Project. "The officers were wrong to enforce the 'no
headgear' policy in a way that discriminated against a Muslim woman
practicing the tenets of her faith."
The lawsuit against the City of Douglasville and the arresting officers
charges that Valentine’s First and Fourth Amendment rights were
violated, as well as her rights under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act, and asks the court to ensure that
religious head coverings will be allowed in the courthouse.
Attorneys on the case include Joseph F. Hession and Gail Podolsky of
Carlton Fields, P.A.; Chara Fisher Jackson and Shahshahani of the ACLU
of Georgia; Migdal and Lenora M. Lapidus of the ACLU Women’s Rights
Project and Mach of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
The complaint can be viewed at:
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.