August 30, 2016

ALABAMA – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a Christian woman who was forced by Lee County officials to remove her headscarf, worn for religious reasons, in order to have her photo taken for a driver license.

Tuskegee resident Yvonne Allen wears a headscarf because she believes her Christian faith requires her to cover her hair at all times in public.  Alabama Law Enforcement Agency rules provide a religious accommodation for such headgear to be worn in driver license photos as long as it does not cover the face.  But when Allen visited a Lee County office to renew her expired driver license, the staff insisted that only Muslim women could claim the religious accommodation. The staff also ridiculed Allen’s beliefs, with one clerk proclaiming that she was a Christian and felt no need to cover her hair. 

“I was devastated when they forced me to remove my headscarf to take my driver license photo,” Allen said. “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.”

Lee County’s refusal to grant Allen a religious accommodation contradicts state rules and violates her rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Alabama Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

“The county’s interpretation of state rules blatantly violates the First Amendment,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “The government cannot discriminate between faiths in granting religious accommodations.”

Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, agreed. “The county’s policy is puzzling. There is absolutely no reason to restrict accommodations for religious headgear to certain religions. The Constitution protects both Christians and Muslims and, indeed, people of all faiths.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, asks the court to order county officials to allow Allen to retake her driver license photo with her headscarf and to award Allen damages and attorneys’ fees.

“For many women like Ms. Allen, headscarves are a religious obligation, and wearing them imposes no harm on others,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Those religious beliefs should be accommodated whenever possible.” 

Read the filed complaint here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/allen-v-english-complaint

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