STOP, ECBA Win Discovery in NYPD ‘Hijab Removal’ Lawsuit, Advocates Condemn de Blasio’s Defense of NYPD

(NEW YORK, NY, 1/23/19) –The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), a leading police accountability organization, and the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA), a leading civil rights firm, today won their motion for discovery on the NYPD’s policy of forcing suspects to remove religious attire, including the hijab, when arrested. The ruling came in STOP and ECBA’s federal class action civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In a statement, STOP, ECBA, faith leaders, and Council Member Carlos Menchaca called on Mayor de Blasio to end the NYPD policy immediately. STOP and ECBA’s clients include a Muslim survivor of domestic violence, who was arrested on charges fabricated by her abuser, and then forced by the NYPD to remove the hijab.

SEE: Hijab Removal by New York Police Prompts Lawsuit

“It is wrong for the NYPD to force New Yorkers to violate their faith, and it’s wrong for Mayor de Blasio to defend this policy,” said STOP Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Mayor de Blasio could end this disgraceful policy right now, with the stroke of a pen, but he’s going to federal court to try to weaken the Constitutional rights of all Americans.  We’re confident that we’ll triumph, but if Mayor de Blasio wins, he’ll only embolden President Trump’s unconstitutional attacks on Muslim Americans.  New York City should be fighting to protect religious freedom, not fighting to weaken it.”

“New York is one of our country’s most diverse cities,” said Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP Partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “But it’s police policy for religious head covering is outdated and unlawful. Our city should be a leader when it comes to respecting religious rights, not a follower.”

“As a representative of over 90 mosques and Muslim led organizations, Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York is calling for Mayor De Blasio to do the right thing, and cease spending New York taxpayer money to  uphold a law that violates the religious rights of Muslims, Sikhs, and others who practice any form of head covering as a religious duty,” said Majlis Ashura (Islamic Leadership Council) of NY. “It is disheartening to see Mayor De Blasio fail to live up to his reputation of being an ally for minorities and vulnerable communities.”

“Asking Muslims to remove their hijabs during an arrest serves no law enforcement purpose,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “If anything, it serves to drive a greater wedge between the police and the Muslim community, exacerbating the hostility that Muslims feel in this country towards their religious beliefs and practices. New York City is better than that, and we must live up to our own values of respecting all faiths by ending this unnecessary and prejudicial practice.”

“The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) finds the NYPD’s continued discrimination against Muslim and other communities of color deeply offensive to basic constitutional protections, said ADC Senior Staff Attorney Iman Boukadoum. “We hope that the administration will reform its policy so that communities we serve can live with dignity.”

“The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) calls on the De Blasio Administration to end its current discriminatory and seemingly counterproductive policing policy of making people in custody remove religious headgear for official photographs,” said ICNY Executive Director Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer. “Having fought for more than a decade for the religious freedom for all New Yorkers and better police-community relations in diverse communities across our city, ICNY calls on our Mayor to end a policy that is harmful to progress on both fronts.”

“Freedom of religion is one of the most important rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution, and that should include freedom to wear religious attire,” said T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs. “Just as Jews should never be barred from wearing kippot or prayer shawls, Muslim women should never be forced to remove their hijabs. Nor should anyone be forced to remove other articles of clothing related to their religious practice.”

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project advocates for common-sense privacy safeguards and ending discriminatory surveillance. STOP uses litigation, legislation, and public outreach and education to increase oversight of local and state police department’s growing use of surveillance technologies.

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP is a litigation boutique that focuses on civil rights, commercial, criminal, and ethics matters. We represent individuals, businesses, and institutions in all aspects of litigation and pre-litigation dispute resolution, from negotiation, mediation and arbitration, through hearings, trials, and appeals.

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