Posted by: Singh Is King | Sunday, November 4, 2007

State of Oregon Apologies to Sikh American Denied Driver’s License due to Turban

Meherbani Kaur Khalsa

Washington, D.C.: The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, received a formal apology from Lorna Youngs, Administrator, Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for denying a Sikh American woman from obtaining a driver’s license because she wore a turban.

When applying for a driver’s license in Portland, Oregon, Ms. Meherbani Kaur Khalsa was informed that she would have to remove her turban for the license photograph. Ms. Khalsa immediately contacted SALDEF for assistance. SALDEF wrote to Administrator Youngs about the violation of Ms. Khalsa’s right to wear her turban as allowed by Oregon law.
Meherbani Kaur Khalsa
In a written response to SALDEF, Administrator Youngs wrote, “I would like to reiterate that [removal] is not required when the headgear is part of the applicant’s normal identification and apologize that Ms. Khalsa received misinformation”.“We are grateful that Ms. Youngs acknowledged the mistake in denying Ms. Khalsa her driver’s license. We are encouraging her to take immediate steps to inform all DMV personnel about the religious and medical exemptions for head coverings in license photographs to prevent another Oregon resident from being denied a license,” said SALDEF National Director Rajbir Singh Datta. “SALDEF is pro-actively addressing this issue by urging the DMV administrators of those states that have a religious head covering exemption to take measures to ensure their personnel are well versed with the policy.”

While many states have exemptions for religious head coverings in license photographs, some DMV employees are not aware of them. This unfamiliarity often results in Sikh Americans not being able to obtain a driver’s license in a timely and uneventful manner. Commonly, the burden falls on the Sikh American applicant to inform and educate DMV personnel that the Sikh turban is a religious head covering and that exemptions exist in the DMV policies.

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