While being detained following a traffic violation, Aida Al-Kadi was ordered to remove her hijab for a booking photo, even though keeping the headwear on was essential to her Muslim faith.
Al-Kadi filed her initial complaint pro se in federal court, and the case was eventually referred to Greene Espel by the Federal Bar Association’s Pro Se Project.
“The strongest case law that was on our side was the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA),” said Caitlinrose Fisher of Greene Espel, who helped represent Al-Kadi.
“The U.S. Supreme Court had a pretty significant decision, Holt v. Hobbs, in which it talked about what it means for an institution to impose a substantial burden on someone’s religion. One of the key points of that decision was that if a person is forced to choose between effectively being punished and practicing their religion, that’s a substantial burden.”
Ramsey County tried to have the case dismissed, but U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ordered the case to trial. He also issued an opinion excluding testimony from an expert the county had hired.
The case settled not long after that, with Al-Kadi receiving a cash settlement and the county agreeing to revise, with her help, its policies on handling detainees with religious headwear.
She wanted the effects of the settlement to expand beyond just her,” said Ginny McCalmont, who also worked with Al-Kadi “Throughout all this, her whole purpose has been letting people know that they can stand up for their rights.”
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