Lawsuit filed against federal prison officials for alleged forced hijab removal, use of photo ID without it

A lawsuit filed against federal prison officials – including some at the Waseca, Minnesota prison – alleges a woman was forced to remove her hijab for identification photos and then use that identification card every day.

The lawsuit filed by Muna Jama, an inmate at Waseca Federal Prison, was filed Wednesday. She is represented by attorneys from the CAIR Legal Defense Fund and the Law Office of Deborah M. Golden.

The defendants listed in the lawsuit are Waseca Warden Michael Segal; Colette Peters, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; Andre Matevousian, Regional Director of the North Central Region of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; John Doe of FCI Waseca; and two FCI Waseca officers who haven’t been identified by name in the document.

The lawsuit claims the defendants’ decision to make Jama remove her hijab, take a booking photo without it, and force her to carry an ID depicting her without a hijab violated her right to exercise freedom of religion.

Court documents go on to say the uncovered photo “pervades Jama’s existence in prison,” stating that Jama must see it every time she walks past her locker, at every bed count and meal, and when she makes a purchase at the commissary.

The lawsuit says Jama has been imprisoned since 2016, meaning she has been through seven years of “forced hijab removal and improper uniforms.”

Being seen without a hijab brings Jama “a great deal of shame and embarrassment,” due to her identity as a Muslim, the lawsuit states.

Jama and her attorneys are asking for an injunction “ordering official capacity to implement a policy change prohibiting Defendants from taking booking photos of Muslim women without their hijab and/or utilizing such photos as forms of identification in the database or on the incarcerees’ ID card,” in addition to an injunction requiring the ID photo and security footage of Jama without a hijab is destroyed.

The lawsuit is also asking for any photos of Jama without a hijab that were shared with other agencies to be destroyed, compensation for Jama, and the coverage of attorney’s fees.

“The right to practice one’s religious beliefs without interference from the government is guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This lawsuit seeks to stop FCI Waseca’s violations of the rights of incarcerated individuals by ending the practice of taking and using uncovered photographs. Everyone deserves to be able to practice their religion with dignity and respect,” said Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN Executive Director.

Donald Murphy, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said in a statement “For privacy, safety, and security reasons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) does not comment on matters related to pending litigation, ongoing legal proceedings, or ongoing investigations.”

The full lawsuit can be read below.