In a federal court settlement released today, New York prison officials have agreed to allow a Muslim correction officer wear a kufi while on duty at a Harlem correctional facility. The settlement, which federal District Court judge Harold Baer approved last Friday, marks an end to the New York State Department of Correctional Services' policy of refusing to grant any religious accommodations to state correction officers.
"This settlement is an important victory not only for Mr. Haqq but for correction officers around the state," said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. "New York has now abandoned its policy of refusing to accommodate the religious beliefs of correction officers, and we fully expect that many other officers will receive religious accommodations."
The NYCLU filed its federal lawsuit on October 5, 2006 on behalf of Abdus Samad N. Haqq, a devout Muslim who is assigned to work at the Lincoln Correctional Facility on West 110th Street in Harlem. In defending the state's directive to Haqq that he not wear his kufi while on duty, former Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services Lucien LeClair had stated, "[T]he Department is vehemently opposed to the granting of any accommodations to security staff employees which alter the uniform grooming regulations for reasons of religious practice."
On March 15, 2007, the United States Department of Justice filed a companion lawsuit against DOCS challenging its refusal to grant religious accommodations to corrections officers. That lawsuit is still pending.
"We are particularly pleased that New York officials have recognized the need to respect the religious beliefs of Muslims," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "We hope this marks a first step towards a more tolerant attitude about freedom of religion by prison officials."
NYCLU Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton and NYU Civil Rights Clinic law students Sarah Brenner, Daniel Clarkson, and Nirav Shah were counsel on the case.