When a Muslim woman in a hijab went to get her driver’s license, the tag agency explained it would gladly allow her to wear her head covering during the photo. However, the woman was shocked to find that she could only receive her license as long as she signed a special “agreement.”
For the vast majority of U.S. citizens, getting or renewing a driver’s license is a necessary inconvenience. Digging up our old birth certificates or remembering to save several valid pieces of mail that contain a valid address is enough to make anyone dread the process. However, for those who wear religious head coverings such as a hijab, one state has a new requirement for obtaining a driver’s license.
As part of a new rule, Illinois residents may opt to wear their religious head dressings for their ID photo instead of being forced to remove them for proper identification. However, just when some civilians were celebrating the change to standard driver’s licenses, they realized there was a catch.
According to the official language on the form for obtaining or renewing an Illinois driver’s license, the individual can have their picture taken while wearing a religious head covering as long as they sign a contract stating that they will never remove the headwear in public so that they can always be identified by their ID photo. If they refuse to sign or subsequently violate the agreement by removing their head covering in public, their ID may be revoked.
Specifically, the form states: “In observation of my religious convictions, I only remove my head dressing in public when removal is necessary (such as for a medical examination or a visit to a hair dresser or barber). I do not remove the head dressing in public as a matter of courtesy or protocol (such as when entering a professional office or attending a worship service). I acknowledge that if the Director of the Driver Services Department is provided with evidence showing I do not wear a religious head dressing at all times while in public, unless circumstances require the removal of the head dressing, my driver’s license or identification card may be canceled.”
The agreement must be signed by the applicant if they wish to have their picture taken for their ID while wearing any of the accepted religious head coverings. As such, when a Maryjane Bicksler, 68, went to a DMV to get an ID, she was shocked to find that she would be forced to sign the contract if she wanted her picture taken while wearing her hijab, according to Chicago Tribune.
Upset over the form’s stipulation, Bicksler later contacted Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for assistance. On her behalf, the organization has filed a complaint in federal court against the Illinois Secretary of State’s office as well as Secretary Jesse White, demanding that they address the concerning language in the form.
CAIR’s lawsuit alleges that there are certain instances in which those who are compelled to wear their religious head coverings at all times must remove them in public, which would violate the agreement. The organization maintains that wearers have the right to choose if they would like to remove their headwear in public without fear of having their ID canceled.
“The State should not be in the position of forcing people to choose between acquiring a necessary form of ID or a needed driver’s license and the free practice of their religion,” said Phil Robertson, Litigation Director for CAIR-Chicago.
Bicksler converted to Islam in 2003 and decided to begin wearing the hijab religiously. However, she admits that she forgoes wearing her head covering whenever she has to rush out the door, making the contract of concern to her.
“Once I decided I wanted to become a Muslim, I studied over a year, because I knew I would wear a scarf and I knew that, my job being in rural Illinois, people were going to wonder why I was wearing this scarf. It was a commitment I made immediately when I decided I would be a Muslim,” Bicksler said. “But some nights when I have to take my young son to work, it’s dark and we’re rushing out the door, I don’t put it on. It’s very seldom. It feels like when you forget a ring or your watch, but it happens.”
Of course, the issue has been addressed in multiple states. In 2005, former research director for CAIR, Mohamed Nimer, asked a vital question when it comes to such a stipulation. “What happens when a woman changes her view of what the hijab is — does she report that to the DMV?” Nimer asked, pointing out an issue with the regulation.
While it’s true that many religious practitioners will have no problem with agreeing to only take off their headgear under certain circumstances, others would have difficulty following the rules. On the other hand, state and federal officials need to be able to identify individuals based on how they look on a daily basis.
The case of compulsory head coverings has produced many problems when it comes to state and federal laws. However, there is a thin line when it comes to religious freedom and national security.