Case in point: in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, a woman named Malak Kazan was caught driving on a suspended license and then subsequently arrested. But when she was taken to booking things got interesting.
Before reading further you should know that the tri-country area of SE Michigan has the United States' largest grouping of people of Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian descent. It is not all odd to see women wearing hijab or to drive down the streets of certain neighborhoods and see Arabic script on billboards or storefronts. The population of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights is at least 1/3 or more of Middle Eastern descent, something that has caused some right-wing
A Muslim woman filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Dearborn Heights police of violating her constitutional rights by making her remove her Islamic head scarf after they arrested her for driving on a suspended license. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Detroit, asks for Dearborn Heights to "modify its current policy" so that Muslim women can wear Islamic head scarves during booking procedures. Malak Kazan of Dearborn Heights was pulled over by police in July on a traffic violation and then taken into custody on a traffic misdemeanor because of her suspended license, according to the lawsuit.
The male police officer then asked Kazan to remove her head scarf to take her booking photo, which usually requires no head coverings or hats. Kazan objected, saying her Islamic faith required her to cover her hair and neck in the presence of men who are not part of her immediate family, the lawsuit said.
Initially I was a little torn on this. There are people in prison who have successfully won the right to kosher or halal food or access to the religious books of their choice. There are Orthodox mohels who use their mouth to draw blood from newly circumcised baby boys. There are a handful of religious exemptions to PPACA. And so on. So what was the big deal right?
Now there are lawyers around this blog who could quote you all the relevant case history and Supreme Court decisions. Perhaps they will drop by and leave some more knowledge. But my interest was less with the legal specifics and more with common sense. After some more thought I don't see it as a horrible violation to have to remove a hair covering for a booking photo. The point of the booking photo is identification. It's not to humiliate you. It's something that anyone who is arrested will have to do. So, if everyone who's arrested has to remove head/hair coverings that could interfere with their identification I would not be in support of Kazan's lawsuit. There are however some people who see situations like these and look jealously at existing exemptions or special treatment given to other religions and ask, why should we assimilate. This case reminded me a little bit of another Muslim woman, one Sultana Freeman, who wanted to have her driver's license photo show her in a veil with only her eyes showing. Some things just won't work. I don't think we can chase all religion out of the public square. I doubt we can come up with bright line rules that automatically make the answers obvious whenever someone raises a religious objection to secular law. But I also think that there are some generally applicable laws and rules that must apply to everyone regardless of their religious beliefs. You get arrested; you take off your hair covering. You want a driver's license; you show your face. And if you're a state justice of the peace or magistrate and a same sex couple wants to get married, you marry them.
How do you see all of this?