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Muslim woman sues state over drivers license
By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez and Amy Rippel | [Orlando] Sentinel Staff
Posted January 30, 2002
WINTER PARK -- A 34-year-old woman is suing the state for suspending
her Florida drivers license after she refused to have her photo taken
without an Islamic veil.
Sultaana Freeman, a former evangelist preacher who converted to Islam
about five years ago and wears the traditional niqab, says her
religion doesn't allow her to show her face to strangers.
She filed suit earlier this month asking an Orange County judge to
review her case.
"I don't show my face to strangers or unrelated males," Freeman said
in an interview Tuesday at the office of her American Civil Liberties
Union attorney. Only her emerald-green eyes and mascara showed through
The niqab is different from a hijab, or partial head covering, which
doesn't hide the face and which some Muslim women wear for their
drivers license photos.
Freeman, who is on an apparent collision course with the state, is
bracing for a possible showdown on the fundamental freedoms of the
"Florida law requires a full facial view of a person on their drivers
license photo," said Robert Sanchez, a spokesman for the Department of
Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "We have no choice but to enforce
Florida law says license applicants shall be issued "a color
photographic or digital imaged drivers license bearing a full-face
ACLU lawyer Howard Marks argues that the law is vague. "I don't think
the state statutes mandate a photograph," he said.
Marks said he also will cling to a state law on religious freedom that
states the "government shall not substantially burden a person's
exercise of religion. "
Barry University Professor Robert Whorf said the state is probably
within its right to ask for a full-facial photograph. "It makes common
sense if the state of Florida were discriminating against her because
of her religion; that would more likely be unconstitutional," he said.
"If the state of Florida's rationale for insisting the veil not cover
the face is for law-enforcement purposes that apply to everyone, then
clearly the state of Florida is not discriminating against anyone for
To husband Abdul-Malik, also known as Mark Freeman, the state's action
is an infringement on his and his wife's rights.
"It's a reflection of Sept. 11," said Abdul-Malik, 40, a 1980
Edgewater High School graduate and 1984 Florida State University
The Freemans said they only want recognition that their interpretation
of Islam requires women to cover their faces.
Sultaana Freeman said she never had trouble in Illinois, where she
worked as a civil engineer with the state's utilities company. That
state, without objection, issued her license with a photo that showed
only her eyes.
Her Florida license was issued with her face covered last February,
but the state demanded a new photo without her veil in November. State
record checks began after Sept. 11.
Altaf Ali, executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said he knows of three other times Muslim
women were refused Florida drivers licenses because of their
headdresses. "I'm sure there's a lot more that's happening and not
getting reported," he said.
Ali is asking the state to clarify its policy on religiously mandated
clothes, and he wants the state to train employees about Muslim needs.
Yasmin Khan, 39, of West Palm Beachsaid she tangled with motor-vehicle
officials when she was refused a drivers license in mid-December.
Khan, a native of Trinidad and a Muslim, said she pulled her headdress
back to her hairline -- as far as her religious beliefs would allow --
for the Dec. 17 photo but was told she needed to remove it completely.
When she refused, she was denied a drivers license, she said.
"I decided to call anybody and everybody because I needed my license.
I have kids, and I need to leave my home," she said.
Two days later, after getting help from local politicians, Khan was
photographed with her hijab pulled back for her new drivers license.
In Daytona Beach earlier this month, Najat Tamim-Muhammad, 41, was
refused a Florida identification card because she declined to remove
Two years ago, Tamim-Muhammad, a native of Morocco, removed her
headdress for the ID photo, but her husband said she did it only
because she spoke no English and was unsure of her legal rights.
Idris Muhammad, her husband, said they plan to go back to the office
to explain to a supervisor why she cannot remove the hijab. They hope
to have the photo taken at that time.
"We understand the fear that comes with dealing with people you don't
know or understand," he said. "In my opinion, it violates our equal
rights under the law. Most people, when you sit down and explain why
the women wear the hijab and the seriousness of not having it on,
Amy C. Rippel can be reached at arippel@...
407-420-5736. Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be reached at
Copyright =A9 2002, Orlando Sentinel