Muslim woman sues Georgia city over headscarf arrest

ATLANTA Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:45pm EST

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Muslim-American woman arrested and jailed after she refused to remove her headscarf before entering a Georgia court filed a federal lawsuit against the city on Tuesday.

Lisa Valentine was accompanying a nephew to court in Douglasville, north Georgia, in December 2008 when an officer manning a courthouse metal detector told her headscarves could not be worn in court, according to the suit.

Valentine told the officer the policy was discriminatory and tried to leave the courthouse but the officer arrested her and a judge cited her for contempt.

She was forced to remove her headscarf, handcuffed and sent to jail for much of the day, the suit said. Authorities released her later that day and the contempt charge dropped.

Valentine's suit argues that by prohibiting her from wearing a headscarf in court, the city violated her constitutional rights to free expression of religion.

The wearing of headscarves in public buildings has sparked controversy in the U.S. and Europe including in France where authorities banned the wearing of headscarves in schools on the grounds that they violated the country's principle of secularism.

Valentine suffered "severe discomfort, humiliation and emotional distress," from the incident, according to the suit.

"To Mrs. Valentine, wearing a headscarf is a reminder of her faith, the importance of modesty in her religion, and her religious obligations, as well as a symbol of her own control over who may see the more intimate parts of her body," the suit states.

Valentine seeks unspecified damages from the city. The American Civil Liberties Union assisted her in filing the lawsuit. Douglasville city manager Bill Osborne declined to comment on the suit Tuesday.

(Editing by Matthew Bigg and Greg McCune)