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Bald-Headed Church and State Controversy in Monsey

When Sarah Cohen of Monsey and her husband were arrested for welfare fraud last month they both had to have mug shots taken, and the police asked Sarah, a Chasidic Jew, to remove her sheitel (wig) for her mug shot. Traditionally, Chasidic Jewish women don’t uncover their heads in mixed company, and some don’t uncover their heads except to bathe, so the request and subsequent mug shot have caused quite the controversy. The issue here is whether the police can force someone who’s accused of a crime to do something against their religious beliefs, and whether the government can allow someone to avoid a legal obligation because of his or her religion. It’s worth noting that the police department in Monsey does provide kosher meals to those prisoners who request it. But allowing Cohen to keep her wig on is different. Wigs are a fairly typical disguise, and Chasidic women have access to many wig options within the community. While they’re not made in order to conceal a woman’s identity, they certainly can have that effect. Would the police allow someone to leave on a mask? What about a woman wearing a hijab or a jilbab? There have been similar cases with Muslim women, and though the ACLU has filed a few suits, all are still pending. No word yet on whether Cohen plans to sue, but the entire Ramapo PD is undergoing “sensitivity training” in an effort to avoid similar situations in the future, and the officer who ordered who to take off her wig is being “sharply criticized.” 

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