Groups Sue Tulsa County Sheriff's Office Over Hijab Incident

Tuesday, May 15th 2018, 3:43 am
By: News On 6

Surveillance video has been released showing the incident at the center of a lawsuit against the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

A woman claims she was denied access to the courthouse because of her Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

The ACLU of Oklahoma and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK) have filed a federal lawsuit against the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.

The lawsuit states Suha Elqutt was "forced to remove her hijab in public and in the presence of several male deputies, an act in direct violation of her sincerely-held religious beliefs."

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado says both sides could have communicated better, but none of the deputies did anything blatantly wrong.

Elqutt claims on April 10th she went to the courthouse to finalize a divorce.  She says after going through security, the metal detector went off and she was repeatedly asked to remove her hijab.

“I simply asked for the deputy to respect my religious beliefs," Elqutt said.  "Instead, I was treated like an animal.  I know this experience will be with me for the rest of my life, and I will never forget the fear and shame that I felt when I was forced to crouch down on the ground and remove my hijab before I could enter a public building.”

“A Muslim woman’s hijab is not, as the deputy put it, like a hoodie.  Instead, a symbol of faith, modesty, and autonomy,” said Megan Lambert from the ACLU.

Elqutt was allowed back inside after allowing two female deputies to inspect her in the parking garage.

“This was shocking to us,” stated Brady Henderson from the ACLU.  “Partially because this is a somewhat normal thing for people to walk into a courthouse, not normally the subject of a civil rights lawsuit.”

In a news release, the CAIR-OK and the ACLU of Oklahoma say "the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office is constitutionally required to make reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs."

Both organizations will seek injunctive relief to "prevent the Tulsa County Sheriff from continuing this unconstitutional practice."

Monday afternoon, the sheriff’s office released surveillance video of the incident.

They say all deputies go through mandatory diversity training and, perhaps with some more in-depth training, this could have gone better.

Regalado says none of his deputies did anything blatantly out of disrespect or to ridicule anyone.

“Those that want to solve the problem, come in and communicate.  Those that want to finger point and not solve the problem, do what they did today,” said Regalado.

CAIR-OK and the ACLU held a news conference at the Dennis Neil Equality Center. They provided a link to the lawsuit: federal lawsuit filed against TCSO.