US: Muslim woman sues sheriff's office after being forced to remove hijab
Sophia Johnston was taken to Rutherford County Jail earlier this month after being pulled over for driving a vehicle with a suspended license.
There, she was told to remove her hijab. Johnston told local news outlet WSMV4 that she did not want to remove her head covering for religious reasons, but deputies told her that if she did not she would be jailed until she complied.
"I was confused. I felt like I was in an unknown place. I was scared, I felt very naked because as a Muslim woman, our hijab is our protection," Johnston told the news outlet.
The lawsuit claims that the sheriff's office broke state law regarding religious freedom. Johnston has said only the men in her family have seen her without her head covering.
"Once I unwrap my scarf, they all come out and just slowly walk past me, and I'm just trying so hard to not cry, not to break down because I can't show these people that they broke me," she said.
The Rutherford County sheriff's office told Middle East Eye that it does not comment on pending legislation.
Johnston is the latest Muslim woman to sue a police department in the US over the forced removal of their hijab during detention.
Considered by some Muslims to be obligatory in Islam, women who choose to wear the hijab do so around men who are not considered their "mahram" - a male family member with whom marriage is considered unlawful.
Being forced to remove would be a violation of their civic and religious rights, the lawsuit contends.
Every state in the US has its own policy in dealing with religious coverings during arrests and mugshots.
Several of these lawsuits have led to hefty settlements in the tens of thousands of dollars, and some police departments, including in New York City, have adjusted their policies regarding mugshots to allow women to continue wearing their head-coverings so long as their faces are left unobstructed.
In one case in 2017, the city of Long Beach, California agreed to pay $85,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman whose hijab was pulled off by a male officer while she was in police custody.