(ATLANTA, GA - 1/10/18) The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations today thanked the City of Atlanta Detention Center for agreeing to permit inmates who cover their hair because of a sincerely held religious belief to do so while detained.
"We thank the City of Atlanta for agreeing to a policy that upholds religious freedom," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR Georgia. "We also commend our former outreach director, Asma Elhuni who sparked the effort to change this policy when she bravely defended her constitutional rights."
Last year, Atlanta Police Department officers arrested Elhuni and other protesters during an immigration-related demonstration outside the Atlanta headquarters of Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE). When jail staff instructed Elhuni to remove her hijab, or Islamic hair scarf, she refused to do so for several hours, citing her sincerely held religious beliefs.
On behalf of CAIR Georgia, Mitchell and Elhuni later met with City of Atlanta Detention Center Chief Patrick Labat and other jail staff to seek a policy that would allow inmates to wear their hijabs. Jail officials expressed concern that inmates could use such hair scarves to harm themselves, or that other inmates could use the scarves to harm inmates who wear them.
As a compromise, CAIR Georgia identified alternative scarves that cannot easily be used for any purpose aside from covering a person's hair. The jail has approved one of those scarves, which CAIR Georgia is providing to the jail in-bulk free-of-charge.
"Although we hope and expect that it will be exceedingly rare for such women to end up in the Atlanta jail, it is increasingly common for people of faith--including Catholic nuns, Muslim women, Sikhs, and others--to deliberately risk arrest as part of a protest," Mitchell said. "Everyone who covers their hair for religious reasons can benefit from this change, which brings the Atlanta jail up to speed with policies in other jails across the country.
During the 2017 Atlanta mayoral campaign, most candidates--including Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms--pledged, in writing, to permit people of faith to cover their hair while detained in the jail.
The only other outstanding issue is whether female inmates can take their mugshot photos outside the presence of male staff or male inmates.
CAIR Georgia is asking the jail to give Muslim women, and other inmates who cover their hair for religious reasons, the option of taking their mugshot photo in the presence of only female inmates and female staff.
Other jails have enacted similar policies. For example, some jails take two photographs: one with the scarf, and one without the scarf. Only female guards are present when the photo is taken.
The photograph without the scarf is never shared with the media or the public, only appearing in the inmate's criminal record. This avoids the problem of unnecessarily violating the inmate's religious beliefs.