Secretary Of State Approves Hats in License Photos

Wendy Margolin Staff Writer The office of the Illinois Secretary of State announced in a press release that Orthodox Jewish women may have their pictures taken for Illinois driver's licenses or a state identification card with their heads covered, as long as their faces are fully exposed. The statement w

The office of the Illinois Secretary of State announced in a press release that Orthodox Jewish women may have their pictures taken for Illinois driver's licenses or a state identification card with their heads covered, as long as their faces are fully exposed.

The statement was a result of a case where an Orthodox woman approached attorney Ira Piltz, of Piltz and Associates P.C., claiming that she was asked to remove her hat to take the photograph for her driver's license. She explained to the employee that she is an Orthodox Jewish woman who covers her hair for religious purposes, and according to Piltz, "She told him she hadn't uncovered her hair in public for 26 years."

Nonetheless, the employee verbally abused her, and she went into shock. "The next thing she remembers was walking out with her husband with her hair uncovered in her driver's license photo," says Piltz.

When the case was brought to Piltz's attention, he informed the woman that much to her surprise, she did have a cause of action. "It would have been a suit that in my opinion probably would have succeeded in federal courts," says Piltz.

In addition, with some investigation Piltz found that there were other women in the Orthodox community who had a similar experience at the secretary of state driver's license agencies. And although there is a case in Florida where a Muslim woman wanted to take a driver's license photograph wearing a hijab (a veil that reveals only a woman's eyes), Piltz says that the case with Jewish women is different, because a hat only covers the hair. A policy that requires a person's face to be visible in the photograph would be permitted by the First Amendment, because it equally burdens people of all religions.

Piltz took action on behalf of his client by contacting the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) and the Agudath Israel of Illinois. With their support, he composed a letter to the secretary of state with several requests, including a new license at no cost and a statement of a policy allowing Jewish women to wear head coverings in photographs. According to Piltz, the office of the secretary of state complied with all requests and was "sincerely apologetic." Piltz is confident that the incident will not happen again.

Since the statement from the office of the Illinois secretary of state was released, it has been disseminated by Piltz, along with the Agudath Israel and the CRC. In addition, to inform the Orthodox community about various kinds of government services that are available to them, Piltz is helping to organize a seminar where Secretary of State Jesse White will speak.

"I realized there are a lot of people in the Jewish community that do not have knowledge of what kind of government support and relief services there are," says Piltz. "My client did not know she had a legal remedy."

For questions about the policy, call the deputy director of Driver Services, Lenny Gutierrez, at (312) 814-2975.


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