New York Police Department agrees to policy change allowing religious head coverings in mug shots

by | Nov 13, 2020

Settling a 2018 lawsuit brought by two Muslim women, the NYPD has agreed to no longer require the removal of a person’s religious head covering for mug shots, provided their face is still visible. The women were forced to remove their hijabs (head scarves) in separate incidents after being arrested.

The settlement agreement reportedly applies not only to hijabs, but also Sikh turbans and Orthodox Jewish yarmulkes. The move comes amid other changes in the department geared toward eliminating religious discrimination and hardship.

The New York Times reports:

“It was appalling that this was happening for so many years in New York and that our city was betraying the values of religious inclusion,” said Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer who represented the women in their suit. “But now we won’t see any more New Yorkers subjected to this discriminatory policy.”


The agreement was the latest example of the Police Department amending its rules to accommodate religious practices in one of the most diverse cities in the country. Under pressure from a similar lawsuit filed in 2016, the department changed its policies to allow officers to wear turbans and grow beards for religious reasons.

Bans on religious head coverings in a variety of contexts have been gradually falling away. Sikh members of the U.S. armed forces, for example, have been allowed to serve while wearing their turban in multiple branches, most recently the Air Force.  Last year, New York state passed legislation barring employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of clothing, head coverings, or hair styles.

In the context of judicial settings and law enforcement, such changes have been slower as officials have emphasized the need to retain the ability to require head covering removal if necessary to “assess the demeanor” of individuals, or out of safety concerns for the presence of contraband.

When it comes to identification through a mug shot, however, there seems to be little argument that such a dramatic intrusion into a religious mandate is necessary. As the plaintiffs in the NYPD case explained, forcing the removal of their hijabs caused great emotional distress, shame, and embarrassment. Kudos to them for having the courage to raise this issue in a court of law, and to the NYPD for recognizing a change is necessary to protect the religious liberty of all.