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ST. LOUIS — A Muslim taxicab driver is suing the city of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and a private security company, saying he has been harassed and arrested because he insists on wearing religious garb.
Raja Awais Naeem, who works for Harris Cab and manages a shuttle service called A-1 Shuttle, says his religious beliefs require him to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and a hat called a kufi. But that garb has run afoul of the taxicab commission’s dress code for cabbies, Naeem claims in the suit filed Thursday (Dec. 13) in St. Louis Circuit Court.
Naeem, originally from Pakistan but now a U.S. citizen, said he has been told he must adhere to the commission’s rules requiring a white shirt, black pants and no kufi. Baseball caps are allowed, as long as they have no logo other than the taxi certificate holder.
He claims he has been harassed and had his taxi license suspended when he continued wearing clothing he says is required by Islam, including the kufi, a loose shirt called a kurta and loose-fitting pants called shalwar. Naeem said the clothing maintains modesty by concealing the figure.
In his lawsuit, Naeem says he was written a citation by a Whelan Security guard in June 2011 for wearing “foreign country religious dress.” Other times he had his taxi license suspended or was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he worked in his religious clothing, he said.
He said he tried to seek approval from the taxicab commission to wear his religious dress, providing the commission an affidavit in October about the importance of the clothing he wears.
“Wearing my religious attire is not a fashion preference, it is part of my identity and a necessary part of my religious belief,” Naeem said in the affidavit.
Representatives of the city, the taxicab commission and Whelan either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment on the suit.
In November, another driver Naeem supervised was stopped at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for wearing religious dress, the suit says. Naeem went to Lambert to discuss the problem, but was threatened with arrest for being there in his religious garb, he says.
Most recently, he was arrested and charged with trespassing, the suit says. Naeem claims a St. Louis police officer took his kufi off his head and threw it on a pile of his other belongings.
“I don’t understand how you can justify somebody wearing his religious clothes getting arrested,” Naeem said in a news conference on the courthouse steps, where he was joined by other cabbies and his lawyer from the ACLU.
His suit seeks an injunction to allow religious dress for cabdrivers, and civil damages including attorney’s fees and other costs.
(Denise Hollinshed writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
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