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O.C. jailers violated Muslim's right to wear head scarf, court rules

March 15, 2011 |  4:10 pm

Orange County jailers violated the religious freedom of a Muslim woman when they forced her to remove her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Souhair Khatib was placed in the Santa Ana courthouse holding facility for about eight hours in 2006 after the court revoked her probation for a misdemeanor welfare fraud conviction. She was released later the same day.

Khatib and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California sued Orange County in 2007, saying male officers at the detention facility humiliated her and caused her "extreme mental and emotional distress” by ordering her to remove her head scarf after she explained that her religious beliefs forbade her from taking it off.

A U.S. District Court had sided with the county and dismissed the case, saying a federal law protecting inmates’ religious practices does not apply to short-term holding facilities.

The 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to reinstate the lawsuit and said the law calls for the broad protection of religious exercise.

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-- Tony Barboza

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