Muslim woman sues Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office after she was told to remove hijab for mugshot
Sophia Johnston was pulled over in Wilson County and sent to Rutherford County because she had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A woman has filed a lawsuit against Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office after she was asked to remove her hijab for her mugshot.
On August 23, Sophia Johnston was pulled over in Wilson County by a deputy for a broken taillight. Deputies there arrested her after finding out she had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant from 2017 for driving on a suspended license. She was then taken to the Rutherford County Jail
“I felt I had to do this to get out of there,” said Johnston.
Johnston said she had no idea about an outstanding warrant related to a suspended driver’s license in Rutherford County. It’s something she said she would have never dismissed.
Johnston said she was asked to remove her hijab to take her mugshot photo. She wanted to keep it on for religious reasons.
“I was confused. I felt like I was in an unknown place. I was scared, I felt very naked because as a Muslim woman, our hijab is our protection,” said Johnston.
She says deputies told her if she didn’t take off her hijab for her mugshot she would be jailed until she complied.
“When they told me I had to take the pictures, they told me I don’t think you’ll be able to keep your hijab on. And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and I told her then what it meant to me, as well as my religion. The same thing I told Wilson County, and then how Wilson county allowed me to do it. She said she’ll speak to the chief to make sure it’s OK, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Johnston.
The lawsuit claims state law was broken due to Tennessee’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which, in this case, denies Johnston’s freedom to exercise her religion. She said only the men in her family have seen her without her hijab. She wanted to get home to her husband and eight children so she made the decision to take the picture without it.
“Once I unwrap my scarf, they all come out and just slowly walk past me, and I’m just trying so hard to not cry, not to break down because I can’t show these people that they broke me. I felt like at that point, that’s what they wanted me to do. I came there and I had nothing to keep me there, so, I felt like at that moment, let’s break this girl, she’s too high spirit, I was too sweet. I was too respectful and I felt like their mission was to break me, and they did,” said Johnston.
Johnston said she’s been traumatized after this situation and she’s fearful someone will see her mugshot since its public record. Here’s her message to the sheriff’s office.
“I would say that before forcing another person to degrade themselves in a way that disrespects their religion, take some time out to have empathy, to know people’s rights, respect, and allow them to practice their religion without being afraid,” said Johnston.
Johnston said her bond $5,000 bond was dropped.
WSMV4 reached out to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office for information regarding its mugshot policy and for a statement on the lawsuit. The sheriff’s office has not responded.
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