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Hijab removal lawsuit in Dearborn settled. Why? It depends who you ask.

Mar 16, 2016

Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A federal religious freedom lawsuit filed against the Dearborn Police Department has been resolved.

But the two sides give different versions of how and why the case was settled.

Maha Aldhalimi  sued the city of Dearborn and its police department last year. She claimed that after police arrested her for unpaid parking tickets in 2014, officers forced her to remove her headscarf, known as hijab, for a booking photo.

Aldhalimi said that violated her “sincerely-held religious beliefs” as a devout Muslim. Her lawyers said she filed the lawsuit as a “last resort,” after Dearborn police rebuffed efforts to establish a more accommodating policy for hijab removal in police situations.

The lawsuit was dismissed with both parties’ consent on March 7, according to court documents.

But on Wednesday, the city of Dearborn issued a press release saying the woman withdrew the lawsuit “after a thorough investigation revealed that her claims were false.”

The release went on to say that evidence from the investigation, including video from the police booking room, “countered the fabricated and damaging accusations that were recklessly made.”

“Dearborn police remain committed to respecting the rights of all people within our custody, and we follow a stringent policy regarding religious head coverings. We knew this lawsuit had no merit, and are glad that the people we serve can have confidence that our officers acted properly in this case,” said Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad.

But Aldahimi’s attorney Shereef Akeel said his client agreed to dismiss the lawsuit after the city “disclosed to us for the first time three weeks ago” that it had actually changed its policy to provide an exemption for religious headscarves.

“We were very pleased with the change, and since the objective was primarily fulfilled, the suit was dismissed. This result was a victory for all citizens,” Akeel said.

Akeel said the city’s statement about the lawsuit was “not accurate, and that is unfortunate.”