Muslim Advocates Asks Federal Court to Reverse Ruling Allowing Strip Searches of Female Inmates

Training Exercise Subjecting Incarcerated Women to Degrading, Dehumanizing Strip Search Violates Religious Liberty Protections

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Muslim Advocates, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Reconstructing Judaism and Interfaith Alliance Foundation submitted an amicus brief in Henry v. Hulett asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to re-hear and reverse a ruling that found that staff at an Illinois prison did not violate the Constitution when they forced female inmates to engage in a deeply humiliating and dehumanizing strip search as part of a training exercise.

In 2011, staff at Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, IL conducted a training exercise that forced incarcerated women to strip and manipulate their genitals, breasts and buttocks—as well as remove tampons and sanitary pads—in view of other officers, including men. The inmates sued the prison, claiming in part that the strip search violated their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. A lower court dismissed this claim and the Seventh Circuit agreed.

Muslim Advocates strongly disagrees with this ruling, noting in its amicus brief that in addition to the clear violation of the prisoners’ privacy, Lincoln Correctional Center’s staff also potentially violated their religious freedom. The group and its partners are asking the full Seventh Circuit to re-hear the lawsuit and reverse the lower court’s decision.

“Prison bars can’t keep out the Constitution,” said Muslim Advocates Staff Attorney Matt Callahan. “Many religions—including Christianity, Judaism and Islam—value modesty and the shielding of one’s body. The court’s ruling not only prevents prisoners from adhering to that common religious practice but it also opens the door to other violations of prisoners’ First Amendment religious freedom rights and protections.”

Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.