A Muslim woman filed a federal civil rights suit Aug. 26 in Chicago against the office of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White over its policies pertaining to the wearing of religious head coverings in driver's license photographs.
The general rule is no hats, caps, scarves, helmets or the like for the required "head and shoulder, full-faced color photograph." But the law allows for "the wearing of religious head dressings" that do "not cover any area of the open face," so long as "the driver signs a declaration stating that, in observation of a religious conviction, he or she wears the head dressing at all times when in public, unless circumstances" - such as a medical emergency or a visit to the barber - "require the removal of the head dressing."
The declaration contains "an acknowledgement that, if the Director of the Driver Services Department obtains evidence showing the driver does not wear religious head dressings at all times while in public, unless circumstances require the removal of the head dressing, the driver's license may be canceled."
In the complaint, Maryjane Bicksler of Rockford, who wears a hijab in public or when in the company of men "as part of her religious faith and practice," argues that compelling her to sign such a declaration threatens her freedom of religion and causes her "anxiety from being on constant vigilance regarding the state of her hijab."
In an interview with the Tribune's Nausheen Husain, Bicksler said, "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."
It's ridiculous that she would have to worry about such a thing.
It's ridiculous that she or any other person is asked to sign a government document underscoring a "religious conviction" for the right to exercise that religion.
But it's even more ridiculous that the state maintains any form of this bizarre, unnecessary prejudice against head coverings.
You can have a full beard for your license photo and shave it off the moment you get home, and your license is still valid.
You can wear a wig for your license photo. You can change to a dramatically different wig, dye your hair or shave yourself bald the moment you get home, and your license is still valid.
You can wear prescription glasses for your photo, then switch to contacts the moment you get home, and your license is still valid.
As long as the photo shows the applicant's eyes, nose and mouth without shadow or obstruction, what's the difference?
I put this question to White's office Thursday, but a spokesman cited the pending litigation and declined to offer any comment on the topic.
Allowing applicants to wear what they want on their heads - tiaras, turbans or tams; homburgs, horns or hijabs; berets, bonnets or boaters - wouldn't reduce the identity-confirming value of the ID photo and would free the motor vehicle bureaucrats from having to play religion referee. It also would save taxpayers the cost of defending the inevitable lawsuits over their decisions.
In 2016, White's office revoked a license issued to an Arlington Heights woman who insisted on having her photo taken while wearing a metal colander on her head. The straining device is a symbol for those who claim membership in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a loose affiliation of skeptics whose belief system satirizes claims made by conventional religions.
But in 2015, officials in California allowed a Bakersfield military veteran to wear a U.S. Marine Corps baseball cap for his license photo based on his far-fetched claim that the oath he took upon joining the Marines was to defend the United States, and since the Pledge of Allegiance says we are "one nation, under God," his cap was a statement of religious belief.
These are ridiculous disputes. And the sensible solution is as plain as the nose that will still be visible on your face no matter what you choose to put on your head.
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