Muslim woman sues Louisville over jail photo taken without her hijab

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Muslim woman is suing Louisville Metro Corrections and the city, saying she was made to remove her hijab in front of men for her jail booking photo in violation of her religious rights.

Clara Ruplinger, 24, was arrested in July 2018 along with eight other people after they blocked elevators to the immigration court inside the Heyburn Building. The protest was one in a string calling for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid outrage over the separation of families at the U.S. southern border.

All nine of the protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing.

In her lawsuit, filed July 25, Ruplinger alleges that while she was being booked, male officials made her take off her hijab and take a booking photo although "removing her headscarf in the presence of men with no familial relation violated her religious beliefs."

Islamic beliefs call for "people to have modesty and specifically for women to exhibit their modesty through some sort of head covering," said Soha Saiyed, one of Ruplinger's lawyers.

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Ruplinger's lawsuit says that she was examined by female officers in a private room, during which time she willingly removed her hijab. She then put her headscarf back on and went to the booking area to have her photo taken in a room with 50 to 60 people of both genders, according to court documents.

Ruplinger was first allowed to wear her headscarf for a photo, her lawsuit says, before a male officer told her it had to be retaken without her hijab so officials could get "proper head dimensions."

What followed was a debate about the importance of Ruplinger's hijab to her, after which the lawsuit alleges that officers succeeded in "coercing" her to remove her headscarf, which she said caused her to be "embarrassed, humiliated and intimidated."

Jeremiah Reece, another lawyer for Ruplinger, said "the fact that she was required to remove her headscarf in front of dozens of male officers and inmates in the first place is a problem, is a constitutional violation."

The lawsuit says that the Jefferson County Attorney's Office had explained that the Metro Corrections officers were following policy. Officials were required to "take the inmate’s photograph, including pictures of any scars, marks and/or tattoos without compromising the inmate’s privacy (i.e., revealing private areas)."

Despite those contentions, the lawsuit says, "Ruplinger had no scars, marks, or tattoos on any portion of her head or neck that were both coverable by her headscarf and requiring photographic documentation."

However, this policy was changed around February 2019, the lawsuit states, and it now allows for "male and female detainees to retain religious headwear while incarcerated, and specifically, during booking photography."

The county attorney's office hasn't replied to a Courier Journal request for comment on this piece of the suit.

Saiyed said now that the policy has been changed, officers need to be trained on how to comply with it.

Reece said there's still public confusion over what is required when people are being booked at a corrections facility.

Federal law doesn't place a mandate on metropolitan jails to take a mugshot, he said, and Kentucky doesn't have any mandatory requirements for booking photograph to be taken.

What booking and jail admissions must include, Reece said, is important identifying information such as gender, height and weight.

On the other hand, Reece said, jails are required to "allow their inmates to practice their religious beliefs freely unless there is some sort of justifiable risk posed to the safety and order of the facility." In this case, he said, there was no question of facility security or safety. "This was simply just an arbitrary requirement."

Because Ruplinger's mugshot was made public through Metro Corrections and published in news reports, the lawsuit says, she was further humiliated.

The suit asks that her mugshot without her hijab be removed from public record and that she be awarded an undecided dollar amount for "damages for physical, mental and emotional pain, suffering and humiliation, now and in the future."

Spokespersons for Metro Corrections and the mayor's office both told the Courier Journal that they cannot comment on pending legal action.

Follow Sarah Ladd on Twitter: @ladd_sarah.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Muslim woman sues over Louisville jail photo taken without her hijab