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Federal Lawsuit Accuses Tulsa County Deputies of Violating Muslim Woman's Civil Rights

Matt Trotter

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office faces a religious discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman.

When Suha Elqutt went to the courthouse last month to finalize a divorce from her abusive husband, she set off the metal detector. While she removed her earrings and the pin holding on her hijab, a different hairpin turned out to be the problem.

Veronica Laizure with the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a two-fold violation of Islam’s principles, male deputies made her take off her hijab in public.

"It’s disappointing that in 2018 we should have to reassert the rights of Muslim women to be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs, but it seems that these situations continue to persist," Laizure said.

ACLU Oklahoma Legal Fellow Megan Lambert said female deputies should have taken Elqutt to a private area, but a male deputy likened her hijab to a hoodie.

"Asking a Muslim woman to publicly remove her hijab is akin to asking her to publicly remove her shirt. In fact, it is a greater insult because of the deep religious significance it has to our client and to many Muslim women like her," Lambert said.

The sheriff’s office said deputies made the best decision under the circumstances, sending Elqutt and with female deputies between two cars to be out of the sight of male deputies and the general public.

ACLU Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson said a pat-down would have been sufficient for security purposes.

"It’s really fairly easy, even with a pat-down, to determine whether or not somebody has a gun or a knife or a set of brass knuckles or a baseball bat under their headscarf," Henderson said.

Elqutt’s attorneys are asking the sheriff’s office be required to offer reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs like not removing head coverings in public. They are also asking for damages to be determined in court.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.