Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Police Require Orthodox Jewish Woman To Remove Wig For Arrest Photo

In Ramapo, New York, members of the town's Hasidic Jewish community are protesting action of the police department in its arrest of an Orthodox Jewish woman, Sarah Cohen. The woman, charged with welfare fraud, was required to remove her wig for an arrest photograph. Many Orthodox Jewish women who are married keep their heads covered in public with a wig as a sign of modesty. However, law enforcement agencies generally require suspects to remove hats, turbans, wigs, glasses and toupees for booking photos. Sunday's Lower Hudson Journal News, reported, surprisingly, that police in New York towns like Ramapo, Spring Valley and Bedford, all of which have large Hasidic populations, have no written procedures on how to deal with religious or cultural concerns in booking suspects. After the incident, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence apologized and called the police officer involved insensitive. The matter is being investigated and a report will be presented to the Town Board tomorrow. Police Chief Peter Brower says he will review departmental policies on the issue.

9 comments:

CrypticLife said...

Also, because they basically have to shave their heads to fit in with the religion (the Ramapo Hasidics are quite orthodox).

I don't really have all that much sympathy, since she was already committing welfare fraud (yes, I know innocent until proven guilty, and she doesn't lose all 1st Amendment rights just because she's accused of a crime, etc. -- but frankly, chances are she's guilty, and her religion doesn't actually require the wig, and it's not clear whether it's "public", and there are reasons to ensure the suspect's not wearing a wig when photographed).

Jesse said...

"Her religion doesn't actually require the wig"

To many Jews, wearing a wig is how they keep their head covered. Instead of wearing a headscarf, they shave their head and wear a wig. I agree that the state need is important enough to justify their actions; I'm merely disagreeing with that particular assertion.

CrypticLife said...

jesse,

Yes, I retract that -- it's not up to me to judge their religious requirements. I do wonder sometimes whether people in that type of a situation are always particularly helpful (e.g., if there was something that could be done to comport with her religion and the law, would she offer it or merely keep her objection open to later claim discrimination?).

Religion and State in Israel said...

Let's imagine the same scenario happening in Israel.

What would be the reaction here?

Joel Katz
>Religion and State in Israel

Anonymous said...

Do we not require Mohammedan women to remove their baggies before getting a driver's license photo? Do we not require Jewish males to remove their beannies when arrested? And do we not require Shikhs to remove their ceremonial headwrap upon arrest and to get rid of their ceremonial daggers? Seems fair. It isn't like forcing a child to be strip-searched by welfare against the will of the parents. That is a crime by the state.

billposer said...

While I agree that the state interest in accurate identification of arrestees overrides religious conventions about dress, in the case of really orthodox women, I wonder whether removing the wig is in the state's interest. Their appearance with the wig is their normal appearance, not a disguise, and if they are truly religious they are not likely to have been bald-headed when committing a crime and are not likely to remove their wig in an attempt at disguise if they flee. A photo WITH the wig thus seems to be the most accurate for purposes of identification. The same consideration applies to Sikh turbans.

Kagehi said...

I need to make a religion that requires you wear clown makeup in public, and that you never wear the same "face" more than once a month, then "protest" when the evil govment tells me I have to offend my religion by removing it when photographed...

The only non-stupid thing about this is that they are *at least* forced to apply the "be nice to the kooks" rule to everyone with some bizarre hang up, not just some obscure Christian sect they are afraid the 5% who are fanatics will get annoyed at them for not treating special.

Sorry, but seriously, the idea that just because you get some wacky requirement from your religion means you don't have to play by the rules everyone else does, has never sat well with me. I mean, I would **think** there god would be *slightly* more offended by what ever crime they supposedly committed, than by then having to obey the police when caught doing it. Just saying...

Lycian said...

Exactly Kagehi. These people committed greater offense to God by being crooks than any slight to their religious custom that would be caused by stripping them of their costume during a police booking.

Billposer is correct to, they should be photographed in their natural state, and with whatever costume they claim to regularly wear in public as they are likely to continue to be thieves or whatever and future investigations will benefit from as much history on them as possible.

Chimera said...

Billposer brought up the point I was going to mention -- a married orthodox woman always wears her sheitl in public, so it's her normal appearance. The only people who ever see her without it are members of her immediate family (husband and children).

If the purpose of a booking photo is purely for identification purposes, nobody would recognize the woman without the sheitl, so why require her to remove it?

This just strikes me as making a lot of fuss with no remedy. Hair is one of those things that is easy to change, so why would its length/color be one of the identifying characteristics? Better the police should photograph the ears, instead.