Muslim' woman's scarf leads to arrest at courthouse

Editor's note: This story was published in 2008.

A Douglasville woman was jailed Tuesday after a judge found her in contempt of court for refusing to remove her hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women.

Lisa Valentine, also known by her Islamic name, Miedah, 40, was arrested at the Douglasville Municipal Court for violating a court policy of no headgear, said Chris Womack, deputy chief of operations for the Douglasville police.

Judge Keith Rollins ordered her held in jail for 10 days, but she was released Tuesday evening. The reason for the early release wasn't immediately clear.

"It was very humiliating, degrading, " Valentine said from her home Tuesday evening. "I wear my hijab faithfully and for no reason I was asked to take it off. It was unreal."

Other Muslim women said the same judge has ordered them to remove their hijabs.

Sabreen Abdul Rahman, 55, said she was asked to take off her scarf when she went to the municipal court last week with her son. "I can't. I'm Muslim, " she mouthed silently to the bailiff, who then removed her from the courtroom, Rahman said.

"This is a religious right, " she said.

Halimah Abdullah, 43, said she spent 24 hours in jail in November 2007 after Rollins held her in contempt of court for refusing to remove her head covering. Rollins could not be reached for comment.

Many Muslim women cover their heads to comply with Islamic mandates of modesty. The practice has run afoul of policies aimed at maintaining decorum and security in courtrooms and other public places across the country.

Valentine said she was accompanying her 19-year-old nephew to address a citation Tuesday morning when she was stopped at the metal detector and told she would not be allowed to enter the courtroom with a head scarf.

Valentine, an insurance underwriter, told the bailiff that she had been in courtrooms before with a scarf on and that removing it would be a religious violation.

Frustrated, she turned to leave and uttered an expletive. She said the bailiff then told her she could take the matter up in front of the judge. She said she was handcuffed and taken into Rollins' courtroom.

"They were putting me in there like I was some sort of criminal, " she said.

The judge ordered her to serve 10 days in jail, where she was forced to remove her headscarf.

It was not clear whether Valentine's language contributed to her arrest.

"I can't believe someone would do this in America, " said Valentine's husband, Omar Hall.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group in Washington, denounced Valentine's arrest as a violation of civil liberties.

Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper called it "troubling."

"When somebody is denied access to our judicial system based on religiously mandated attire, then what does that say? No Muslim woman can have access to a courtroom in Douglasville, Georgia?" Hooper said.

"A judge does have the right to set decorum in a courtroom, but you can't use those standards to violate someone's legal rights."

Last year, CAIR officials met with city and court officials in Valdosta to discuss religious attire in courtrooms after Aniisa Karim, a 20-year-old Muslim woman, was barred from entering a courtroom to settle a traffic ticket because of her hijab.

Hooper said he contacted the U.S. attorney general's office regarding the latest incident. He said Eric Treene, special counsel for religious discrimination, said his office would look into it.