Woman sues, claims officials forced her to remove headscarf for license photo

Posted September 6

A Christian woman is suing officials in Lee County, Alabama, alleging she was forced to remove her headscarf before taking a photo for her driver's license.

In a complaint filed last week, Yvonne Allen of Tuskegee, Alabama, alleged that a clerk told her last December that "only Muslim women have the right to cover their hair," and asked her to remove the scarf, Reuters reported.

The lawsuit also claims that, after Allen explained her Christian beliefs, the chief clerk "ridiculed (her) sincerely held religious beliefs," with the official saying that she, too, is a Christian, but isn't required to cover her head.

Allen said she complied with official's demands because she felt she had no other choice but to remove the scarf. She called the experience "humiliating and demeaning" in an April blog post published by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I first politely asked whether the clerk could close the door while my hair was uncovered. She refused," Allen wrote. "With tears in my eyes and utter disgust in my belly, I took the picture."

According to ACLU, which filed the case on Allen's behalf, she wears the headscarf "for religious reasons," basing her belief that her hair must be covered at all times in public on 1 Corinthians 11 in the Bible.

The ACLU alleges that Lee County officials' purported handling of the incident violated the Alabama Constitution as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"I was devastated when they forced me to remove my headscarf to take my driver license photo," Allen said in an ACLU statement. "Revealing my hair to others is disobedient to God. I should have the same right as people of other faiths to be accommodated for my religious beliefs."

At the heart of the case is the claim that Lee County officials are willing to give an accommodation to Muslims, but not to Christians — an entirely inappropriate dynamic, according to ACLU of Alabama executive director Susan Watson.

"The county’s interpretation of state rules blatantly violates the First Amendment," Watson said. "The government cannot discriminate between faiths in granting religious accommodations."

The ACLU said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has rules allowing for headgear in photos, so long as it does not cover a licensee's face.

Allen wrote in her April blog post that she's hoping "officials will do the right thing" and that she can help make sure no one "else endures the same treatment" that she purportedly faced.

The lawsuit asks that Allen be permitted to retake her driver license photo with her headscarf, and that she be awarded damages and attorneys' fees.

Allen's case follows many debates around the globe over religious attire, with Muslim women increasingly coming under fire for wearing headscarves and burqas, among other related clothing.

Most recently, France's "burkini" ban caught the most attention, but debate over hijabs and other Islamic clothing is nothing new and has, in fact, been raging since the Sept. 11 attacks, with some women claiming back in 2001 that they feared wearing head coverings would lead to potential attacks.

Numerous countries across the globe — including France, Switzerland and Belgium, among others — ban face veils such as burqas and niqabs. In the U.S., some non-Muslims have agreed to wear headscarves, among other religious garments, to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community.

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