gavel.jpgA federal appeals court in San Francisco agreed today to reconsider whether a Muslim woman’s religious rights were violated when she was required to remove her headscarf in an Orange County courthouse holding cell four years ago.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced that an 11-judge panel will review a decision in which a smaller panel of the court rejected a religious freedom lawsuit filed by Souhair Khatib.

Khatib, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Lebanon, was directed by county officials to remove her headscarf while she was confined to a courthouse holding cell for a few hours on July 29, 2006, while awaiting a probation violation hearing.

She was told by a holding cell deputy that her headscarf was a security risk because it could be used to choke her.

Khatib complied with the direction, but claimed in a lawsuit against the county that the action violated her rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The law bars governments from imposing any “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion by anyone confined to an institution.

Khatib said her Islamic religious beliefs required her to cover her hair and neck in the presence of men and that the removal of the scarf caused her to feel humiliated and ashamed.

In May, a three-judge panel of the appeals court by a 2-1 vote turned down the lawsuit. The panel majority said a holding cell doesn’t qualify as an institution, since its purpose is simply to provide a “secure transient environment” for people awaiting hearings.

An 11-judge panel will now reconsider that conclusion. The expanded panel will hear arguments in December and issue a written ruling at a later date.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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