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New York City has agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two Muslim-American women who alleged that the police infringed upon their rights by requiring them to remove

their hijabs before being photographed after arrest.

The preliminary settlement, which includes men and women compelled to remove religious attire for mug shots, was filed in Manhattan federal court on Friday and awaits approval from U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres.

After accounting for legal fees and costs, the payouts are expected to total approximately $13.1 million and could rise if a sufficient number of the over 3,600 eligible class members make claims. Each recipient stands to receive between $7,824 and $13,125.

The resolution stems from a lawsuit initiated in 2018 by Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz, who asserted experiencing shame and trauma when compelled by police to remove their hijabs for mugshots in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. Both had been arrested for alleged violations of orders of protection they deemed baseless. Their legal representatives likened the forced hijab removal to a form of strip-search.

Clark, in a statement conveyed by her attorneys, expressed feeling "naked" and profoundly violated when her hijab was taken off. The lawsuit prompted the New York Police Department (NYPD) to revise its policy in 2020, allowing individuals to wear head coverings during mug shots as long as their faces remained visible.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city's law department, hailed the settlement as a positive step forward for the NYPD, asserting that it strikes a balance between respecting religious beliefs and the law enforcement necessity of capturing arrest photos.

Under the revised policy, individuals can retain their religious headwear during mug shots, extending to other faiths such as Jewish wigs, Sikh turbans, and other religious head coverings. However, police retain the authority to temporarily remove head coverings for security searches, to be conducted privately by officers of the same gender.

Albert Fox Cahn, legal counsel for Clark and Aziz, asserted that the agreement underscores the NYPD's accountability in upholding the First Amendment rights of New Yorkers, emphasizing that the department cannot infringe upon these rights without facing consequences.

The settlement is available to individuals who were compelled to remove head coverings between March 16, 2014, and August 23, 2021. Photo by Hijabis4ever, Wikieda commons.