HairFightAllen

A standard practice in the Lee County, Alabama, driver’s license office is to grant an exemption to a no-hair-covering rule to Muslims for their license photographs, according to a new lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of Alabama.

But Christians are being denied the same exemption, and that violates the Constitution, a complaint filed this week against Lee County Probate Judge Bill English and Chief Clerk Becky Frayer alleges.

The new case explains that a Christian woman who covers her hair in public all the time “as part of her religious practice” was refused the same accommodation that routinely is made available to women if they are Muslim.

“County officials … admitted that there was a religious accommodation available for head coverings, but contended that it applied only to Muslims,” the filing in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama said.

The officials, the complaint explains, “also ridiculed Ms. [Yvonne] Allen’s sincerely held religious beliefs, with the chief clerk informing her that she was herself a Christian and did not cover her head.”

The custom “of denying non-Muslims a religion accommodation for driver licenses photos contradicts the actual policy of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency … which allows a head covering for religious and medical reasons,” the complaint continues.

Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that groups like Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also identify Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”

“Religious accommodations for people of faith play an important role in furthering our historic commitment to religious freedom. However, such exemptions must comply with fundamental constitutional principles. For example, a religious exemption cannot impose harm on others. An accommodation for religious headgear in driver license photos easily comports with this requirement. But Lee County’s custom, policy, or practice of accommodating some religious adherents – while denying Ms. Allen the very same exemption – flagrantly violates another constitutional rule: The government cannot discriminate among faiths.”

At the legal blog Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh quoted from the ACLU statement: “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.”

“The county’s interpretation of state rules blatantly violates the First Amendment,” said Susan Watson, of the ACLU of Alabama. “The government cannot discriminate between faiths in granting religious accommodations.”

The blog said those comments were correct.

“The First Amendment doesn’t generally require government to give religious exemptions from generally applicable laws (such as requirements that people have driver’s licenses that show them bareheaded) – but when the government does grant religious exemptions, it generally can’t grant the exemption to members of one religion and then deny the same exemption to members of other religions. The Alabama Constitution also presumptively requires religious exemptions (Alabama has a state constitutional amendment that tracks the language of many Religious Freedom Restoration Acts), and while exemptions can be denied when necessary to serve a compelling government interest, it’s hard for the state to credibly make the argument that Christians must be denied this exemption when the state thinks that granting the exemption to Muslims poses no problem,” he wrote.

The complaint explains Allen was distraught by the confrontation and, since she felt she had no other choice, complied.

“The encounter at the defendants’ office caused Ms. Allen severe stress, anxiety, and anguish,” the complaint states.

Then she got legal advice and request a new photo be put on her license, but officials declined to respond.

The complaint notes that the “early church theologian Hippolytus of Rome stated that ‘all the women [should] have their heads covered with an opaque cloth,'” and Martin Luther himself “believed women should ear a veil for public worship.”

“Only recently have some followers of Western Christianity moved away from the head covering, but it is still practiced today by many individuals who believe it is necessary to maintain faithfulness to scriptural teaching,” the complaint notes.

“Regardless of how widespread the practice has been historically, or how commonly it is followed today, Ms. Allen sincerely believes that her personal Christian faith compels her to cover her hair when in public.”

Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that groups like Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also identify Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”

 

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