Can Islamic Clothing Be Worn to take an Official ID photo in U.S?

  • Many forms of official identification in the United States, such as a passport or state driver’s license, requires that the individual’s face be clearly visible in order to verify identity.
  • For this reason, Muslims have sometimes been denied the right to have identification photos taken wear Islamic clothing, such as the hijab.

First Amendment Disputes
In the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a person’s right to freely practice the religion of his or her choice. For Muslims, this choice often includes a certain standard of modest dress and common religious clothing. Such a clearly-stated freedom may not be violated except for a greater public good.

However, some people, including some officials in charge of processing ID documents, insist that ID photographs, for the safety and protection of everyone, must show a person’s complete head and face, including the hair. They maintain that all head coverings of any type must be removed for the photo.

However, several government agencies have made exceptions to this rule in the case of religious headwear.
U.S. Passport Photos
The U.S. State Department, for example, gives explicit guidelines for U.S. passport photographs:

Can hats or religious headgear be worn for the photo? Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and the head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.

In this case, it is acceptable for the hair to be covered for religious reasons, as long as the full face is visible. Under no circumstances are face veils (niqab) allowed to be worn in U.S. passport photos.
Driver License and State ID Documents
Each individual U.S. state implements its own rules with regards to driver licenses and other state ID documents. In many places, an exception is made for religious headwear as long as the person’s face is clearly visible, in line with the State Department guidelines quoted above. In some states, this exception is written into state law, while in other states it is an agency policy. A few states allow a no-photo ID card in certain circumstances or provide other accommodation for those with religious needs. If there is a question about a particular state’s rules, one should consult the DMV head office and ask for the policy in writing.
Face Veils (Niqab)
With regard to face veils, virtually all photo IDs require the face to be shown for identity purposes. In a 2002-03 case in Florida, a Muslim woman petitioned for the right to wear a face veil in a driver’s license photo, in accordance with her interpretation of the Islamic dress requirements. The Florida court denied her claim. The judge supported the DMV’s opinion that if she wanted a driver’s license, a brief removal of her face veil for an identity photograph was not an unreasonable request and therefore did not violate her religious rights.

Similar cases have resulted in the same ruling in other states. A fully veiled woman may be able to request that the photo is taken in private if the office setup allows for this.

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