Albama State lifts ban on Turban and Hijab for Driver's licence Photograph

February 19, 2004
8th Phalgun,
535 Nanakshahi

NEWS RELEASE

Albama State Reverses Discriminatory Driver's License Photograph Policy

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA - Thursday- The Department of Public Safety (DPS)announced today a new policy which will allow Sikhs to wear their Turban and Muslims to wear their Hijab when taking their driver's license photograph.

This reverses a two-year-old policy which provided that no head coverings of any kind could be worn when taking a driver’s license photograph. The old policy made no exception for religious garb like the head scarves (known as hijab) worn by many Muslim women, Turbans worn by practitioners of the Sikh faith, and Catholic nuns who wear habits, even though none of these articles of clothing obscure facial features.

"The old policy violated the Religious Freedom Amendment to the Alabama Constitution, which mandates that government may only restrict religious _expression when it has a compelling reason to do so, which was absent in this instance," said the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, and other Sikh and Muslim organizations which have been in the forefront of a campaign to reverse the old policy.

The campaigning groups said in a joint press release that they recognize that the driver’s license photograph has to be an accurate representation of the individual photographed. However, they said that it could be achieved without resorting to discrimination against members of any religious group.

" We are pleased that DPS has adopted a revised policy that complies with state and Federal law and is mindful of every citizen’s constitutional right to freely exercise his or her religion," the campaigning groups said.

The Sikh community of Alabama cautiously welcomed the policy reversal, waiting to see if the new guidelines will be implemented.

" I will be visiting the local DPS office tomorrow to see if the policy has taken effect," said Rajinder Singh, a resident of the community of Huntsville, Alabama, who spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the Sikhs in Alabama.

"We welcome DPS's action," said Singh, "but will not celebrate until we confirm that the new policy has been implemented."

"The reversal of the policy is positive news in light of the challenges to the Turban we face worldwide today," said Jatinder Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS in USA, referring to the proposed ban on articles of faith in France and the subsequent Right to Turban campaign.

"We will work with Sikh communities around the world who face similar problems to the one faced by the Sikh community in France and Alabama, " he said.

The ban on wearing Sikh Turbans for driver's license photographs came to light on January 29, when Chitrattan Singh was refused a new driver's license because he wore a Turban in his photograph. Chitrattan Singh, of Hunstville, a Sikh student at Alabama State University, contacted Rajinder Singh about the problem the same day.

"This was the first time since the policy was implemented two years ago that a Sikh was denied a Driver's license because his photograph showed him wearing a Turban," Mr. Rajinder Singh told UNITED SIKHS director Mejindarpal Kaur, in a telephone interview.

Mr Chitrattan Singh said he is very pleased that the problem has been resolved.

"A Sikh is able to survive wherever he is because he has faith in his community," he said in an interview with UNITED SIKHS. He said that he was very touched by the enthusiasm and support he received from the small Sikh community of Alabama, especially Rajinder Singh, who he said had acted "admirably" in solving this problem.

Mr. Rajinder Singh had, on hearing of the problem, sent off a report to the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Taskforce (SMART) who brought the issue to the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr Rajinder Singh did not let matters rest there. He attended the Alabama State Legislative Committee meeting on February 11 with representatives from the Muslim community.

"We were allowed to make a short address even though we were not scheduled to address the meeting," Mr. Rajinder Singh said.

The ACLU issued a memorandum on February 17, on behalf of the Muslim and Sikh community to the Attorney General of Alabama, to the legal staff of the Office of the Governor of Alabama, and the general council of the Department of Safety of Alabama.

The memorandum, which included a reference to the Turban worn by Sikhs, demanded that the policy be changed to reflect the religious requirements of the two communities. Furthermore, an ultimatum of 10 days was given for a resolution to the matter.

For more information on the Right to Turban campaign please visit:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/us-eu/petitions/RightToTurban.htm