When Yvonne Allen went to renew her Alabama driver's license, she said she wasn't expecting to discuss the Bible. But the trip turned into her defending her Christian beliefs about women covering their heads.
This Christian woman said she's always been a spiritual being, and has tried to remain obedient to God and his Word. She takes literally the words of 1 Corinthians in the New Testament: "If a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off." She told the Washington Post she never goes out in public without a colorful scarf wrapped around her hair, so she naturally wore on when going to the driver's license bureau in Auburn, Ala.
But when Allen sat down for her driver's license photo, the clerk demanded she take off her headscarf. Allen said when she started to refuse, the clerk asked her if she wears the scarf for religious reasons. "Yes, ma'am," Allen said.
"Are you Muslim?" Allen said the clerk asked. When Allen told the clerk she was Christian, she said the clerk replied: "Only Muslim women have the right to cover their hair in their driver's license photos."
Allen eventually removed her headscarf that day to get the license she needs to drive to work and to take her children to school. According to the lawsuit, she said she asked the clerk if she could at least partially close the door, to give her some privacy while the photograph was taken. The clerk said no, Allen claims.
Now Allen is suing for the right to wear her religiously sanctioned headgear in her driver's license photo, just as Muslim women can do in Alabama.
In the lawsuit Allen filed on Tuesday with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, she claimed Lee County Probate Judge Bill English, who oversees driver's licenses in the county, and chief clerk Becky Frayer violated her constitutional right to be treated the same as someone of a different religion would be.
The ACLU said Allen would not talk about the case Tuesday, but she has written about the experience since she went to get her driver's license in December, according to the Washington Post.
"My faith was tested in a way that was humiliating and demeaning," she wrote in a blog post the ACLU published in April.
Alabama's 2004 policy on driver's license photos states that drivers can wear head coverings for religious reasons as long as their full face is visible. However, it also states, "Photographs of applicants wearing headgear not specifically religious in nature are not acceptable."
Allen said the first clerk she saw told her, "Christian women don't cover their hair," even when a friend of Allen's who was there with her told the clerk that Allen never takes off her head covering in public.
Then the first clerk told Allen she could call the chief clerk Frayer, which she did. Frayer reportedly repeated that only Muslims can wear headscarves in their photos. Frayer said she herself is Christian and doesn't cover her hair.
Allen said each time she must show her driver's license, she feels she is violating her biblical belief all over again by showing her hair. In several Christian denominations, including Catholics, Amish and Mennonites, women do cover their heads in public.
Allen stated she has written letters to English, asking for a new license, but in the lawsuit she said she has received no responses.