Drivers license photos of Hindia Ali and Suban Khalif, from a WCCO-TV broadcast
Muslims in Minnesota are speaking out over a bill introduced in the state’s House of Representatives that would require all drivers licenses to include an identifying photo that shows the full head and face without any form of headwear.
Suban Khalif and Hindia Ali told WCCO-TV in Minneapolis that their Muslim faith demands they wear a traditional head scarf nearly 24 hours a day, and that to remove it for an identifying photo would trample their religious rights.
“Daily, I cover my hair,” Khalif told the television station. “And I don’t think I need to show my hair on a driver’s license. It just doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
Ali added, “My facial expressions, my face, my nose, my eyes should be clearly enough for any person to tell us apart.”
Aman Obsiye of the United Somali Movement told WCCO, “There’s no logic behind the bill, so we want to know really what is the motivation behind the bill.”
Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, is the chief author of Minnesota H.F. 0989, co-authored by seven other Republicans and Democrats. Gottwalt says he introduced H.F. 0989 on behalf of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association for legitimate law enforcement reasons.
“This is not about religion or race; it is about public safety,” Gottwalt said. “The photo on a drivers license is meant to provide quick and accurate identification.”
In Minnesota, a spokesman for Gottwalt’s office explained to WND, police are hampered, particularly in high-pressure situations, by a lack of enforced standards on the license photos.
“Law enforcement officers have indicated there are a growing number of drivers license photos in which various hats and head coverings obscure personal features, making it difficult to accurately identify people,” Gottwalt said. “In some cases, there are even Minnesota drivers licenses without any photo at all. Most Minnesotans see this as common sense, public safety legislation.”
Indeed, the bill would affect not only Muslims, Gottwalt said, but gang members wearing hats and bandanas and persons who may intentionally or unintentionally obscure their appearance.
Harlan Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the bill addresses a serious concern among law enforcement officials.
“Headwear of any kind can obscure features necessary for prompt and accurate identification,” Johnson said. “These include hats, bandanas, scarves, masks, and more. Especially in emergencies, the absence of a full head and face photo on a drivers license can lead to serious delays or confusion. We appreciate Rep. Gottwalt carrying this bill, and we hope it passes.”
Sgt. Jason Burke of the St. Cloud Police Department agreed, arguing that Ali’s assertion that her facial features “should be clearly enough” is mistaken.
“People identify individuals more than just the eyes, and the nose, and the mouth and the front face,” Burke told WCCO. “They look at the hair, and the ears, and the sideburns and other features of the head.”
According to WCCO-TV, Gottwalt’s bill allows an exception for those who have a deformity or medial condition that requires headwear.
Minnesota H.F. 0989 has been introduced and referred to the Minnesota Legislature’s Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division.