LANSING — A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington, who was sued by a group of Muslim women after being forced to remove their hijabs for public identification photos.
The motion to dismiss the case, denied by Judge Paul Borman of the Eastern District Court of Michigan, was filed by Washington, who is responsible for the creation and implementation of the MDOC’s photograph policy.
A group of Muslim and Moorish science incarcerated women filed the lawsuit against Washington in December. They alleged that MDOC’s policy requiring them to remove their hijabs for identification photos that are then placed on identification cards and a public website operated by MDOC is a violation of their First Amendment Rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
The lawsuit mostly centered around prison system’s policies at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Pittsfield Township.
In filing her motion to dismiss the lawsuit against her, Washington alleged that despite her personal involvement in the policy she should not be held liable for the constitutional violation of the women.
Borman issued his opinion and order on Thursday, denying Washington’s request to remove her as a defendant from the lawsuit, leaving her to face personal liability for her actions.
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), a nationwide Muslim advocacy and civil right group, welcome the judge’s decision.
“The forceful removal of a Muslim woman’s hijab for a photograph that is shared online is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause,” said Amy Doukoure, CAIR-MI staff attorney. “We are pleased that Judge Borman refused to let those who insist on continuing to violate the religious rights of Muslims, especially those most vulnerable like our incarcerated brothers and sisters, escape liability without having to answer for the violation.”
Last December, Doukoure had told Fox 2 that “the stripping of the hijab for a Muslim woman is equivalent of making a non-Muslim woman walk around topless or shirtless in front of men and then publishing them to a website.”
Doukoure said that for more than two years, CAIR-MI tried to work with administrators to update the policies forcing women to remove their hijabs for public photos, but the administration was not interested.