Written by Don Byrd
Via Religion Clause, the ACLU of Alabama has filed suit against Lee County officials on behalf of a woman who was denied the right to wear a head scarf in her driver’s license photo. When Yvonne Allen explained that her religious beliefs call for her to wear modest dress including a head scarf, officials denied her request for an accommodation because she is Christian.
According to the complaint, an employee actually told her, “You are not a Muslim, and Christian women don’t cover their hair.”
Here is an excerpt from the ACLU press release announcing the suit:
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.”
While we may associate head coverings with Muslim beliefs moreso than Christian beliefs, common associations do not define which sincerely held religious beliefs are protected by law. A religious accommodation is clearly anticipated and allowed by the state. The outcome should not – and surely cannot – depend on whether the sincerely held belief requesting it adheres to Islam or Christianity.
Professor Eugene Volokh points out that Alabama’s Constitution includes a provision similar to many state RFRA laws, placing a high burden on the state in denying such requests. He has more on this case at the Washington Post.