Muslim women at center of suits over hajj, headscarves

December 14, 2010

(RNS) The federal government has filed suit against an Illinois
school district for not allowing a Muslim teacher to make the hajj
pilgrimage to Mecca, and the ACLU has filed suit on behalf of a Georgia
woman who was thrown in jail after refusing to remove her headscarf.

U.S. officials on Monday (Dec. 13) sued Berkeley School District 87
in suburban Chicago for denying a Muslim schoolteacher's request for
almost three weeks of paid leave of absence so she could perform the
hajj, the pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Middle school teacher Safoorah Khan alleges that the school district
that hired her in 2007 violated her First Amendment rights in November
2008 when officials turned down two requests for an unpaid leave of

She resigned shortly after, stating that she could not delay the
hajj, which is required of all Muslims who are physically and
financially able at least once in their lives.

On Tuesday (Dec. 14), the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of
Douglasville, Ga., charging that police officers at a municipal
courthouse violated Lisa Valentine's First and Fourth Amendment rights
when they told her she could not enter a courtroom while wearing an
Islamic headscarf.

When Valentine, who was accompanying her nephew at a traffic
hearing, tried to leave the courtroom and protested to the officers,
they arrested her and brought her before a judge who charged her with
contempt of court and sentenced her to 10 days in jail. She was released
several hours later after police determined she had done nothing wrong.

The city of Douglasville later issued a press release stating that
officers erred; the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a policy in 2009
stating that religious head coverings were permissible in state

"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, in a statement.