Muslims upset about removing scarves to get Alabama licenses

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Some Muslim women in Alabama are upset because state driver’s license officials are requiring them to remove their head scarves if they want to get a license.

“I wear this for religious reasons. I’m not taking it off,” La Tonya Floyd of Mobile said Thursday.

Floyd said she left a driver’s license office in Mobile on Dec. 19 after being told state rules require her hair to be visible in her license photograph. She appealed to the state Department of Public Safety in Montgomery for an exemption for religious reasons, but was turned down, she said.

She is one of more than 10 Muslim women from Mobile and Birmingham who complained to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The Washington-based group wrote to Alabama Public Safety Director Mike Coppage asking the state to end its requirement for women to remove their head scarf, or hijab.

Department spokeswoman Dorris Teague said department officials were reviewing the matter. DPS officials later released a statement Thursday saying that it is necessary for a driver’s license photo to clearly identify the individual. The statement said that DPS policy requires that photographs on Drivers Licenses “appear in such a way that would allow for the positive identification of individuals pictured on the license.”

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said most states — including Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee — have policies that allow people to wear head coverings for religious and medical reasons, such as cancer patients who have lost their hair. The rules provide that the coverings can’t obscure the person’s face.

Last June, a Muslim woman in Florida lost a suit in which she sought to have her driver’s license photo made with a veil. Florida had originally allowed her to get a driver’s license wearing a veil, but the state changed its policy to require a full-face photo after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The scarves at issue in Alabama cover the hair, ears and neck, but not the face, Hooper said.

Boyd Campbell, a Montgomery attorney who specializes in immigration law, said banning head scarves makes no sense when Alabama allows men to wear hair pieces and women to wear wigs in their driver’s license photos.

“What’s the difference?” Campbell asked.

Floyd maintains that a photo in a scarf would be better because it would represent the way she should would look if stopped by a law enforcement officer or going through a security checkpoint.

She said Alabama’s policy doesn’t appear to be enforced consistently because she has talked to Muslim women who got driver’s licenses in Alabama while wearing scarves. In one case, a Muslim woman stepped into a private room and allowed a female employee to verify that the hair color she put on her license application was correct, Floyd said.

Floyd, who moved to Mobile from Dallas last year, said she had no problem getting a license in Texas while wearing a scarf.

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