ACLU: Woman denied full driver’s license after refusing to expose ears for photo

Big Island officials said it’s already changed its policy on the issue.

ACLU: Woman denied full driver’s license after refusing to expose ears for photo
The ACLU is raising issue with Big Island DMV offices. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island woman who wears a hijab was told she couldn’t get a full driver’s license because she wouldn’t expose her ears for the photo, in what the ACLU says is an unconstitutional policy.

The ACLU of Hawaii has sent a demand letter to Hawaii County, urging them to change the policy because it violates the First Amendment.

Hawaii County responded to the ACLU’s complaint, said it was following federal guidelines that have since been changed. “The Federal Department of Homeland Security, which set forth the REAL ID laws, updated its own interpretation of the requirements regarding head coverings. The updated interpretation of the law was not immediately conveyed to the state or county,” Hawaii County officials said, in a news release.

The case stems from an “18-week ordeal,” in which Hilo resident Laycie Tobasa sought to renew her county-issued driver’s license.

The ACLU said Tobasa is a practicing Muslim and wears a hijab, or head scarf, that covers her hair and ears but not her face.

“While the County of Hawaii routinely allows non-religious applicants to have their photos taken for driver’s licenses with their ears covered, when Ms. Tobosa visited the Hawaii County DMV to renew her driver’s license, she was not treated in the same way,” ACLU said, in a news release.

“Instead, because she would not agree to expose her ears from beneath her hijab when taking her identification photograph, she was held in line for hours, and ultimately granted only a provisional driver’s license, which allowed her to drive but could not be used as a form of identification.”

The ACLU said Hawaii County reversed course and issued Tobasa a full driver’s license after the UH Department of Religion “confirmed” her religious beliefs.

“The Hawaii County DMV’s policies violate the First Amendment, plain and simple," said ACLU staff attorney Wookie Kim, in a news release.

“Most troubling is the DMV’s requirement that people with religious beliefs — and only such people — engage in an onerous process with a third-party entity (in this case, the University of Hawaii) to prove that their religious beliefs are valid.”

This story will be updated.

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