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NYPD Agrees to Alter Religious Headwear Policy

The NYPD forced both women to remove their hijabs when the women’s official arrest photographs were taken. Clark says she recalls feeling naked when photographed and that she broke down in tears in a holding cell.

Aziz says she was weeping as she stood in a hallway with a group of men. The embarrassing ordeal compelled the women in 2018 to jointly file a federal lawsuit to compel the NYPD to change its booking policies regarding religious head coverings.

The NYPD agreed to a settlement in November 2020, which did involve the desired policy changes. The updated policy permits people to be photographed in their religious head coverings so long as their face is not obstructed.

Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer for the women, said, “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. But now we won’t see any more New Yorkers subjected to this discriminatory policy.”

The settlement will apply to all religious headwear, such as yarmulkes and wigs worn by Orthodox Jews, or turbans worn my Sikhs.

The agreement requires that the NYPD Patrol Guide be updated to reflect the changes in policy. Officers will be trained to “take all possible steps, when consistent with personal safety” to respect “privacy, rights, and religious beliefs” by allowing those arrested to remain wearing their religious headgear. Exceptions do remain for concerns of safety and weapons or contraband searches.

Patricia Miller is chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division of the City Law Department and issued a statement regarding the settlement agreement declaring it’s a “good reform for the NYPD.” Miller added, “It carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos, and should set an example for other police departments in the country.” 


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