Michigan City Settles With Muslim Woman Forced by Police to Remove Her Hijab

Police in the city of Ferndale, Michigan, will no longer require Muslim women to remove their hijabs while being photographed and will stop subjecting them to cross-gender searches unless there is an emergency.

(Photo by Anne Kitzman, Shutterstock.com)
(Photo by Anne Kitzman, Shutterstock.com)

The decision follows a recent settlement reached by the city of Ferndale with Helana Bowe, a Muslim woman who sued the city after she was arrested during a traffic stop in June 2021. She was searched by a male officer and forced to remove her hijab for a booking photo that was made public.

According to a May 26 news statement by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), which filed the lawsuit on Bowe’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the city has “reached a full and satisfactory settlement” with Bowe.

As part of the settlement, the Ferndale Police Department is required to make procedural changes in how Muslim women are booked. They will be allowed to retain their head coverings while being photographed, and the mugshots will not be taken in the presence of male officers, a point violated with Bowe.

The lawsuit, filed in October 2021, alleged that the city of Ferndale, part of the Detroit Metropolitan Area, violated Bowe’s rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a 2000 statute designed to “protect individuals, houses of worship and other religious institutions in zoning and landmarking laws.”

“The male guard forced our client to remove her religious covering despite her pleas to not have to remove it, stating that removing it made her in a state of undress and that was a violation of her sincerely held religious beliefs,” said CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy V. Doukoure. “We are pleased to announce this settlement and believe that the policies that Ferndale has put in place will help protect the religious rights of Muslim women who may find themselves in their custody.” 

“It is important to remember that the Constitution was written to protect those who are most vulnerable, and many of the rights protected by the Bill of Rights were enacted to safeguard our freedoms, specifically during interactions with law enforcement,” Doukoure said. “Religious freedoms remain intact, even when facing arrest or incarceration.”

Bowe, a practicing Muslim, was stopped while driving in Detroit after a Ferndale police officer thought the registration on her license plate had expired. (A subsequent search revealed that Bowe’s registration was valid.)

Bowe was arrested following a brief confrontation with the officer after she told him she was carrying a Taser in her purse for personal safety and was informed by the officer that she needed a permit to carry the weapon.

CAIR, whose mission is to “protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims,” offers educational booklets aimed at helping law enforcement officers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.

Two such booklets are titled A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices and A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community.


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