Muslim Woman From Norman Wins Driver's License Fight

Friday, February 20th 2009, 9:30 am
By: News On 6

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

NORMAN, OK -- A Norman woman who felt her civil rights were violated by a photograph is now smiling. The woman says the photo, taken at a local tag agency last year, compromised her religious beliefs. The young woman is a practicing Muslim.

She wears a headscarf, and, while most people would not be allowed to wear head gear when getting their driver's license photos taken, the state does have an exemption for religious head coverings.

"For us, our scarves are kind of like what normal people feel like your shirt, ya know?" Monique Barrett said. "If you didn't have your shirt on, it's very sacred to us and very important to us."

And it's important, Barrett says, that her head scarf cover her hair when she's in public as she was at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

"We only show our hair to other women and to men of our families," Barrett said.

So, when a worker at the Norman Tag Agency, unaware of any exemptions, insisted last September that Barrett pull her scarf back beyond her hairline for her driver's license photo, she was upset.

"I have to go to a place to get my checks cashed and I have to keep showing men my photo time after time after time," she said.

That embarrassment was brought to an end Thursday, with the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and DPS.

"These cases are isolated and we hope that we can provide the training and the education so that future instances don't occur," Razi Hashmi with the Council on American-Islamic Relations said.

"I feel better," Barrett said. "I'm gonna be proud to go Friday, cash a check and show my new ID, definitely, it's definitely not gonna be embarrassing."

The Norman Tag Agency sent a statement, which reads, in part, "We deeply regret the mistake we made in regard to this situation. We offer our sincere apologies to Ms. Barrett for any offenses or any inconvenience that we have caused her."

They also say they'll make sure this doesn't happen again. Department of Public Safety officials say they were glad to be able to set things right in this case.

The exemption for religious head coverings has been in place in Oklahoma for about the past six years.