ACLU Calls On Sheriffs to Adopt Religious Accommodations Policy

FOAA Reveals Most Maine Counties Have No Protections in Place for Muslim Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
December 15, 2016 2:00 pm

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PORTLAND, Maine – The ACLU of Maine on Wednesday urged Maine sheriffs to adopt and implement a religious accommodation policy that includes guidance for handling detainees who wear religious head coverings. The ACLU urged all sheriffs to consider adopting the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office policy.

“The First Amendment protects the right to practice the religion of one’s choice, including while in the custody of the state,” said Jamesa Drake, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maine. “As Maine demographics change, our institutions must be prepared to accommodate varied religious beliefs and practices.”

Cumberland County policy dictates that female Muslim detainees will at no point be required to remove their headscarves, or hijab, while in the presence of men. If a female detainee is suspected of hiding contraband under her headscarf, she will only be required to remove it in a private place under the supervision of female jail staff.

While Cumberland County has a strong policy in place, the office recently came under fire for releasing booking photos of two Muslim women without their hijabs on to the media, in violation of its own policy as well as Muslim beliefs.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce later apologized to the women and committed to better officer training. He also said his office will change the way it processes booking photos, so there is a smaller chance that the wrong one will be released.

The Cumberland County incident prompted the ACLU of Maine to file Freedom of Access ACT (FOAA) requests with all Maine sheriff’s departments. All but York and Hancock Counties responded; some said that they had policies in place but provided copies of policies that do not provide adequate protections, and some asked the ACLU of Maine for guidance in crafting new policies.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office religious accommodations policy is available here.

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