Appeals court: OC jailers can remove head scarves of women under arrest

SANTA ANA — A federal appeals court ruled today that Orange County officials were right when they told a Muslim woman to remove her traditional head scarf — or "hijab'' — while she was in an Orange County Superior Courthouse holding cell.

Souhair Khatib was appealing U.S. District Judge David O. Carter's decision in favor of county officials.

Khatib, of Anaheim, sued the county after deputies told her she had to remove the hijab as she was held on two separate occasions in a holding cell in the North County Justice Center in Fullerton.

Judges Stephen S. Trott and Kim McLane Wardlaw ruled the holding cells would not be covered under federal law prohibiting religious discrimination in government institutions because a holding cell is not a prison or a jail that requires an overnight stay.

Deputies wanted the scarf removed because it could be considered a weapon, but Khatib argued it was against her religion to remove the scarf in the presence of men who were not her husband. She was being held on a welfare fraud probation violation.

However, Chief Justice Alex Kozinski criticized the majority opinion, written by Trott.

"This is not a hard case. The statute here clearly covers courthouse holding facilities like the one where Souhair Khatib was confined and forced to uncover her head in the presence of men who were not her husband,'' Kozinski wrote.

"As the district court recognized -- and the majority acknowledges -- this is a serious affront to her religious beliefs. I can see no plausible reason why a facility which has a permanent staff of 20 deputies and handles thousands of inmates a week ought to be exempted from (the federal law).''