A US federal appeals court unanimously reinstated a lawsuit on Tuesday filed by a Muslim woman who accused Southern California jailers of violating her religious freedom when they ordered her to take off her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.
An 11-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said plaintiff Souhair Khatib had the right to wear the scarf unless jailers can show it was a security risk.
Khatib filed the lawsuit in 2007 against Orange County. She had been jailed for several hours in November 2006 after a judge revoked her probation for a misdemeanor welfare fraud conviction.
A trial court judge and a three-judge appeals court panel previously dismissed the lawsuit, saying holding cells aren’t covered by a federal law protecting the religious practices of prisoners.
They held it was impractical in transitory settings such as a holding cell to honor religious practices normally allowed in prisons.
But the 9th Circuit judges rejected the argument. The court added the county can still argue security concerns required Khatib to remove her head scarf, if it can prove the order “was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.”