Story at a glance

  • The New York Police Department previously required people to remove religious head coverings for photographs upon request.
  • Two Muslim women sued the city on the grounds that the policy violated their freedom of religion.
  • The NYPD has agreed to change its policy to respect “privacy, rights and religious beliefs."

The New York Police Department (NYPD) will no longer require people to remove head coverings for mug shots after two Muslim women sued the city for what they said was violating a core promise of the First Amendment: freedom of religion. 

“It was appalling that this was happening for so many years in New York and that our city was betraying the values of religious inclusion,” Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer who represented the women in their suit, told the New York Times. “But now we won’t see any more New Yorkers subjected to this discriminatory policy.”  

The department agreed to change its policy in a settlement agreement with Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz, who were arrested for violating protective orders the lawsuit alleged were "bogus." Arrested eight months apart, both women were allegedly told to remove their hijab under threat of further legal charges, photographed and “humiliated.”


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"Like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab, Ms. Clark felt exposed and violated without hers — as if she were naked in a public space," said the lawsuit, which alleged that an NYPD officer also openly mocked the Islamic faith. 

They weren’t the only ones either, according to Plaintiff Turning Point for Women and Families, a nonprofit that helps Muslim women and girls who have been victims of domestic violence. The city's police department established the policy in 2015, the New York Times reported, and a stipulation that allowed those who opposed to be taken to a private room with a photographer of the same gender was never incorporated in the NYPD's Patrol Guide. 


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A number of different religions require or encourage the wearing of head coverings, including Judaism and Sikhism, and the department has run afoul of religious rights before, changing its policy for its own officers to allow turbans and beards. 

“It carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos, and should set an example for other police departments in the country,” Patricia Miller, chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division of the city Law Department, said in a statement.

The new policy requires officers to “take all possible steps, when consistent with personal safety” to respect "privacy, rights and religious beliefs," with exceptions for weapons or contraband searches and a risk to safety, and the department will keep track of such instances for at least the next three years. 


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Published on Nov 10, 2020