ACLU: DMV delay violated 1st Amendment

  • Courtesy photo Hilo resident Laycie Tobosa.

HILO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii wants Hawaii County to show it no longer follows policies regarding driver’s license pictures it says violates the First Amendment.

At issue, according to the ACLU, was that it took 18 weeks for Hilo resident Laycie Tobosa to receive a renewed license because the county objected to her wearing a hijab, or head scarf, that covered her ears in the picture.

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The organization — which argues that such rules don’t comply with federal interpretation of the Real ID Act — also objects to Tobosa being required to get proof of her religious beliefs from the University of Hawaii’s Religion Department. It says other people were allowed to take photos with their ears obscured.

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

In response, the county issued a press release stating that it was following requirements of the act it thought were still current at the time that said a veil, scarf or headdress can’t obscure any facial features. It said it did not know that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had changed its interpretation of the law.

“As soon as the state and county became aware of the new interpretation of the law, Ms. Tobosa was immediately issued a full REAL ID compliant driver’s license on April 18, 2018,” said Naomi O’Dell, county vehicle registration and licensing administrator, in a statement. “Since that time, we have been consistently following that interpretation.”

The statement said Tobosa was issued a temporary license when she applied to renew “as a matter of course.”

The ACLU issued a demand letter asking the county to remove a policy requiring letters from UH confirming their beliefs, ensure that rules and policies adhere to the Real ID Act, and to train personnel in the equal and constitutional application of rules. No compensation or financial damages are sought.

The county’s statement didn’t address whether it still requires third-party verification of religious beliefs if they conflict with rules regarding identification.

“I just want the next Muslim woman, or any other person of any religion, going into that office to be treated with more respect than I was and not to be discriminated against for exercising their right as an American to freedom of religion,” Tobosa said in a statement.

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The ACLU says it is asking other counties in the state to show that they don’t “impose similar unconstitutional policies.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.