Muslim women need not remove hijab for driver’s license picture

Spokesman: Problem on the Big Island shouldn’t occur here

Maui County does not require the ears to be visible for driver’s license photos, meaning that Muslim women do not have to remove their hijab, or head scarf, a county spokesman said Tuesday.

The removal of the hijab for driver’s license photos came up when Laycie Tobosa, a Hilo native who converted to Islam and wears a hijab, had difficulty renewing her driver’s license on the Big Island on Feb. 1 because her headdress covered her ears for the license photograph.

It took 18 weeks for Tobosa to get her full license, and she needed a “document of approval” from the Religion Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa confirming her religious practices.

The American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii sent a letter to the County of Hawaii on Oct. 9 demanding that the county “change the unconstitutional policies, which violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Cautionary letters also were sent to Honolulu, Maui and Kauai counties seeking confirmation that they do not impose similar unconstitutional policies, the ACLU Hawaii said. Maui County spokesman Rod Antone confirmed last week the receipt of the letter.

Hawaii County said that initially its motor vehicle officials were following the federal REAL ID requirements for driver’s license photos in place at the time, which said that the “face from crown to the base of the chin, and from ear to ear, shall be clearly visible and free of shadows. Veils, scarves or headdresses must not obscure any facial features and not generate shadow.”

Hawaii County said that it was unaware that the Department of Homeland Security, which sets the REAL ID requirements, updated its interpretation of head coverings. As soon as county officials became aware of the new interpretation, Tobosa “was immediately issued a full REAL ID compliant driver’s license on April 18,” said Naomi O’Dell, Hawaii County Vehicle Registration & Licensing administrator.

“Since that time, we have been consistently following that interpretation,” she said.

The ACLU Hawaii challenged the new interpretation scenario presented by Hawaii County, saying the new “religious accommodation” provisions were published in 2016 by Homeland Security.

When asked about Hawaii County’s problem with the hijab, Antone offered up the same REAL ID rules cited initially by Hawaii County officials in denying Tobosa her driver’s license.

However, Maui County attorneys interpreted the provisions differently than Hawaii County officials, saying that “the ears do not have to be visible in the picture,” Antone said.

“But the face ‘from ear to ear’ needs to be visible,” he continued. “This eliminates the main issue that had been presented by the hijab.”

Antone reported that there have been no complaints in Maui County over the handling of hijabs, but added: “We’ll speak to our DMVL (Division of Motor Vehicle and Licensing) staff to make sure they understand this section as well.”

“The main focus, of course, is to make sure they get a clear picture of someone’s face so that their ID clearly matches the person whose picture is being taken,” he continued.

County officials have spoken to a representative of the Islamic Center of Maui “so that they are clear on this interpretation as well, and they are happy to work with us on this,” Antone said.

Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government set standards for the issuance of official government identification, like driver’s licenses.

As of Jan. 16, driver’s licenses and state identification cards are issued with a star in a gold circle as part of being “REAL ID” compliant. The new identification cards allow people with them to board commercial airlines and access federal facilities.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, everyone traveling domestically on commercial airlines will need to present a REAL ID credential or some other acceptable form of identification.

To renew a driver’s license in Maui County, applicants need to provide documentation of proof of name, date of birth, Social Security number, a legal presence and principal residence.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com. Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.