State House Passes Bill Restricting Head Coverings

Wednesday, March 11th 2009, 9:28 am
By: News On 6

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9 for The News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A controversial bill, which some argue violates the state Constitution, passed the state House March 2.

House Bill 1645 dictates what people can and can't wear in a driver license photo, which some argue takes away their religious freedom.

Read the Head Covering Bill (PDF)

The bill bans anyone from wearing something that obstructs the view of the person's head or shoulders, including head scarves worn for religious reasons.

"It is a commandment of my faith and a woman of faith," Muslim Malaka Elyazgi said. "I do cover modestly, as much as possible."

Every time Muslim women leave the house, their heads are covered. It is a commandment in the Muslim religion.

"This is not a fashion we put on," Muslim Zena Attia said. "This is not a style we have to wear. This is a form of worship in our book."

Their scarves remain on in their driver license photos. State law currently allows the scarves for religious reasons. The women argue taking the right away violates their rights.

"I don't feel like I have the freedom," Elyazgi said. "I feel like I'm going back to Saudia Arabia or Afghanistan. There, women are forced to cover. Here, you're going to force me to uncover. Where's is my democracy?"

State Representative Wade Rousselot (D-District 12), one of the bill's authors, wants to forbid hats, head scarves and glasses, to keep pictures consistent.

"If I went to another country and I did not abide by their rules...I would not get the privilege of a driver's license in that country," Representatice Rousselot said.

The bill passed the state House, but the state Senate author removed his name when the house added the head covering amendment and he talked to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

"I'd kind of like to know the motivation behind it and what the real problem it's trying to fix," Senator Roger Ballenger (D-District 8) said. "DPS says they don't have a problem with current law."

If this becomes law, many Muslim women worry about what's next.

"There's no end, when you break your constitution, the religious freedom, they always be taking something else," Attia said.

State lawmakers continued trying to find a senate author. The ACLU is pushing for a religious exemption.

Lawmakers began looking into the issue after a woman fought to take her picture with a head scarf. Even though current law allows that, there was some confusion at the tag agency.