Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prison headscarf rule does not violate First Amendment

You go to jail, they take your picture. That's the rule in New York City. Elizabeth Zargary sued the City over its policy, which "required her to briefly remove a headscarf she wears as part of her religious observance as an Orthodox Jew."

The case is Zargary v. City of New York, a summary order decided on February 1. The trial court held that the policy does not violate the First Amendment. The Second Circuit (Sack, Livingston and Murtha [D.J.]) affirms. Prisons are allowed to restrict First Amendment rights if the restriction is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The Supreme Court said this in 1987. This gives prison officials much leeway in running their operations.

Zargary loses the case because the City has a sound basis for requiring her to remove her headscarf so that prison officials can take her picture. The Second Circuit holds that "the policy is reasonably related to the City's unassailable interests in identifying prisoners and maintaining prison and prisoner safety and security." Moreover, there are no real alternatives to the policy, at least there are no "obvious, easy alternatives that could accomplish the same ends at de minimus cost to valid penological interests."

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