Muslim Worker Sues N.Y. Department of Corrections Over Skullcap

Oct. 6, 2006 — -- Abdus Samad Haqq, 53, has been employed as a corrections officer at a New York work-release facility for more than 12 years. For almost all of those years, he has worn a kufi -- a traditional Muslim skullcap -- to work every day.

Last May Haqq was suddenly forced to remove his religious headwear and now is suing the New York State Department of Correctional Services, claiming his freedom of religion is at stake.

Haqq has abided by the orders to remove the kufi while his lawsuit is pending but says that the change has deeply disturbed him every day for the past five months. "I am emotionally scarred by this," Haqq told ABC News.

"To me, the kufi represents my character. It is an extension of who I am as a devout man and reminds me of how I should behave. It helps me to have 'Takwah' -- a godly sense of the creator that is a constant presence in my life."

Other Departments Allow It, Laywer Says

Corey Stoughton, Haqq's attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, told ABC News that the most surprising aspect of Haqq's case is that the New York State Department of Correctional Services is unique among other correctional service groups in not making a dress code exception for religious purposes.

"Almost every other relevant comparable agency allows to wear a kufi, a yarmulke, or a garment of the equivalent," Stoughton said, noting that even guards at Rikers Island are allowed to wear a headdress or skullcaps.

"There has always been a uniform regulation, but Title 7 says you have to make an accommodation if following religion," Stoughton said, referring to Title 7 in the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 for Equal Employment Opportunities.

A New York State Department of Correctional Services representative said that the department does not comment on any pending litigation. But in a court document, the department's acting commissioner is quoted as saying, "The department is vehemently opposed to the granting of any accommodations ... which alter the uniform grooming regulations for reasons of religious practice."

When asked what he will do if he loses the suit, Haqq said, "I am a 53-year-old man. I got 12 years in the department. I don't see myself particularly going into another line of work. I will continue to be an officer, but I will be very bruised."