Religious Rights Restored: Muslim Women Now Allowed to Wear Hijab in Virginia Prisons

Imagine spending twenty years in prison, nearly to the day, and for many of those years being forced to expose your body against your will and against your sincerely held religious beliefs.

That is exactly what happened to Regina Smith, an inmate at a Virginia prison and a CLCMA client. After much discussion with the prison officials and the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, we are thrilled that Ms. Smith– and all inmates of all faiths who wish to wear religious head-coverings– can now once again do so without fear of ramification.

As a devout Muslim, Ms. Smith sought to adhere to all the tenets of her religion, including observing hijab. In recent years, however, she was subjected to verbal abuse and the threat of punishment simply for exercising her constitutionally protected right to observe her religion. In fact, the places where she was allowed to wear her hijab constantly shrunk until she was forced to stay in her cell nearly all day due to the oppressive previous policies and the inconsistent application of such rules.

Her inability to observe hijab did not just stop with feeling exposed against her will. She was denied medical treatment though the policy allowed for her to wear it, she was forced to stop eating in the lunchroom and rely on commissary alone, and she was even threatened with punishment for wearing it in her own housing unit. When she tried to explain to one of the staff members, she was met with non-sequiturs such as “I have been to Asia, I know about religion.”

Despite Ms. Smith’s ordeals, CLCMA is thrilled that the Attorney General’s office and the Warden of Ms. Smith’s institution expressed willingness to collaborate with CLCMA and come to a resolution. This new policy will benefit not only Ms. Smith but all people of faith who wish to cover their heads. CLCMA is proud to represent Ms. Smith, and its other clients seeking to enforce similar rights to religious expression.