The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma (ACLU of OK) today announced the filing of a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Tulsa Muslim woman refused entry to the Tulsa County Courthouse because of her hijab, or religious head covering. The lawsuit alleges that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office violated Suha Elqutt’s rights under the First Amendment and under Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Tulsa joins a number of other U.S. cities facing lawsuits over their treatment of Muslim women who wear the hijab,” said CAIR-OK Civil Rights Director Veronica Laizure.“Ms. Elqutt is determined that her experience provide a means to seek justice for Muslim women everywhere, and for any American facing discrimination because of their religious beliefs.”
"By failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for our client, the Tulsa County Sheriff has forced Ms. Elqutt to choose between two equally vital constitutional rights," said Brady Henderson, Legal Director at ACLU of Oklahoma. "No one should have to choose between access to the courts and their deeply held religious beliefs. By forcing her to do so, the Tulsa County Sheriff has violated some of our most basic and cherished constitutional rights."
“What should have been a great day became one of the worst days of my life,” Ms. Elqutt wrote in a statement released the same day. “I simply asked for the deputy to respect my religious beliefs... 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.”
On April 10, 2018, Elqutt attempted to enter the Tulsa County Courthouse to finalize a divorce. On passing through the security checkpoint, a hair clip underneath her hijab set off a metal detector. Ms. Elqutt and her divorce attorney, Sadie Temple, repeatedly requested that the deputy and other officers summoned as backup respect Ms. Elqutt’s religious rights by simply patting down the top of her hijab, which would have revealed any substantial item underneath; by bringing a female officer to observe Ms. Elqutt’s removal of the headscarf without any men present; or by simply turning their backs while a female deputy removed the headscarf.
Each request was met with a refusal and an insistence that Ms. Elqutt remove her headscarf in public, in full view of the multiple male deputies as well as the other men standing at the security checkpoint. Ms. Elqutt was only allowed entry to the courthouse when she allowed two female deputies to inspect her hair in the parking garage, crouching down between two parked cars for some semblance of privacy.