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Attorney General Holder Asked to Address Constitutionality of MN, OK Hijab Bans

posted on: Mar 4, 2009

A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today asked Attorney General Eric Holder to determine whether proposed legislation in Minnesota and Oklahoma prohibiting religiously-mandated head scarves, or hijab, in driver’s license photographs would violate the Constitution.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that, if passed into law, both bills would infringe on the First Amendment rights of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and members of other faiths who wear religious head coverings.

The Oklahoma legislation banning head coverings was introduced following a successful campaign by CAIR’s chapter in that state to allow Islamic head scarves in driver’s license photographs.

In a letter to Attorney General Holder, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in part:

“We believe both of these unnecessary and apparently unconstitutional bills would have a negative impact on the First Amendment rights of Muslims and members of other faiths in Minnesota and Oklahoma. We urge you to address the civil liberties implications of these bills and to offer a formal opinion that may be used by legislators who wish to support the Constitution and its protection of religious rights.”

A copy of Awad’s letter was sent to Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

According to a 2004 CAIR review, most states – with the exception of Georgia, Kentucky and New Hampshire – have addressed religious accommodation concerns. Five states – Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, Missouri, and Maine – recognize some religious practices, while the other 42 states have adopted more inclusive approaches to religious accommodation policies.

CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.