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CAIR Minnesota Muslims Oppose Banning Hijab on Driver's Photos

posted on: Mar 3, 2009

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) said today that a proposed bill banning head coverings in driver’s license photographs would infringe on the First Amendment rights of Muslims who wear a religiously-mandated head scarf, or hijab, and of Minnesotans of other faiths who wear religious attire.

Citing “public safety” concerns for the ban, the bill accommodates those who wear a head covering for medical reasons but fails to provide an accommodation for those who wear it for the constitutionally-protected right to practice their religion.

[In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the ruling of an earlier court that two New Jersey Muslim police officers had the right to wear beards for religious reasons. The ruling held that, since there was a medical exemption for officers who had a skin condition, a religious exemption must be granted as well.]

CAIR-MN challenged the safety assertion by the bill’s sponsor, saying instead that current Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and State Department passport rules allow religious head coverings to be worn in photographs and while passing through airline security.

A similar bill has been introduced in Oklahoma following a successful campaign by CAIR’s chapter in that state to allow Islamic head scarves in driver’s license photographs.

“This proposed legislation has a clear disparate impact on people of faith and cannot pass a First Amendment test,” said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. “Muslims will not be the only people in Minnesota affected by this legislation. Individuals from the Sikh, Jewish, Catholic and other religious communities who wear head coverings will also have their religious rights negatively impacted.”

She questioned whether the proposed bill would permit law enforcement officers in the field to force the removal of religious head coverings.

Ms. Islam said Muslims from across Minnesota will gather on March 10 for the annual “Muslim Day on the Hill” to discuss the bill and other issues of concern to the Muslim community with legislators. The event will include a rally at 10 a.m. in the Rotunda of the State Capitol, followed by individual meetings with elected officials. The event is co-sponsored by CAIR-MN, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN) and the Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM).

CAIR-MN will contact Rep. Steve Gottwalt, who introduced the legislation, to request a meeting to discuss the bill and the negative impact it will have on the constitutional rights of all Minnesota faith communities.

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.