HONOLULU — A Muslim woman who wears a hijab was discriminated against while trying to renew her Hawaii driver's license, a civil liberties group said in a complaint letter Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii sent a letter to officials who oversee driver's licensing on the Big Island demanding that they change unconstitutional policies.
The county denies discriminating against her, Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joseph Kamelamela said.
Laycie Tobosa was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, where she lives. She traveled to Egypt after graduating from college in Hawaii, decided to convert to Islam and began wearing a headscarf, the ACLU said.
County officials made it difficult for her to renew her license, the letter said. Tobosa received a provisional license because her headscarf covered her ears in her photograph. It took 18 weeks for her to get a full license. She was required to submit a "document of approval" from the religion department at the University of Hawaii's Manoa confirming her religious practices.
The county said in a news release that officials followed U.S. requirements they believed were in place at the time that veils, scarves or headdresses must not obscure an applicant's facial features.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security updated its interpretation of requirements regarding head coverings but didn't immediately notify state or county officials, the release said.
"There was a lot of discussion with the applicant and the state Department of Transportation as we tried to clarify the rules and carry them out correctly," said Naomi O'Dell, administrator for the county Vehicle Registration and Licensing Division.
ACLU attorney Wookie Kim called the county's statement misleading.
The county "seeks to justify its violations of the Constitution by claiming they were unaware of the Department of Homeland Security's guidance on the REAL ID Act and religious accommodation - which were in fact published on the DHS website as early as 2016. The County of Hawaii's discriminatory enforcement of the REAL ID Act's photo requirements against Muslim women and women wearing headscarves_but not against people whose hair naturally covers their ears_violates the First Amendment to the Constitution regardless of County officials' flawed understanding of what "ear-to-ear" means," Kim said in a statement.
The ACLU said if county officials don't respond with a plan for correcting "constitutional violations" by Nov. 1, the group will consider options, including a lawsuit.
They're asking Hawaii's other counties to confirm they don't impose similar policies.