State Department Apologizes for Actions of US Consulate in Jerusalem: Not Allowing Hijab Passport Pictures a “Complete Mistake”
On Aug. 26, the State Department re-confirmed to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) that photos of females wearing hijab are acceptable passport photos.
In mid August 2004, a woman contacted ADC after her experience at the US Consulate in East Jerusalem. She had gone to the Consulate in May 2003 to renew the passports of her daughters, ages 12 and 14. After filing out the required paperwork, she then submitted photos of her daughters. In their photos they are wearing hijab, head covering, which covered their ears, hair, and a small part of their forehead. The Consulate rejected the photos despite that fact that their faces were fully visible. The woman then submitted another set of photos for her daughters where the hijab was pulled back to their hairlines and the edges of their ears. According to the girls‘ mother, their headscarves were pulled back “to the maximum allowable limit” according to her religious beliefs and the faces of her girls were fully visible. Again, the pictures were again rejected.
The American Citizen Services (ACS), which assists people with passport renewal, registration of Americans living outside the US, birth reports for children of American citizens born outside the US, voter registration, income tax forms, notary services and emergency service to American citizens living outside the US, said that the passport pictures must show the hairline and at least one ear. However, the mother said that her passport photo, in which she is wearing hijab in the same manner as her daughters, was accepted. The woman added that many of her female friends have submitted similar photographs with their hairlines and ears covered which were accepted. Feeling frustrated, the woman began to investigate this matter by contacting the US Consulate in Riyadh. The US Consulate in Riyadh said that ears need not be shown in passport photographs and that only the “full face” need be shown. These inconsistencies were both confusing and frustrating to the family, so they contacted ADC. Upon learning all the details of the case, ADC sent a letter to the ACS in Jerusalem and the State Department urging action to be taken to rectify the infringement on religious rights experienced by this woman and her daughters. In the letter, ADC noted that to force the mother to include pictures of her daughters in the manner demanded by ACS “would require that she and her daughters violate their faith.” ADC additionally expressed concern regarding the inconsistencies in enforcing passport photo requirements among various US Consulates, exemplified by the mother and her friends experiences, as well as the information provided by the Consulate in Riyadh.
In urging ACS to address this matter immediately, a matter that potentially infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression, ADC suggested that both an apology and an explanation were in order. ADC also requested an explanation as to why ACS in Jerusalem appears “to apply the photograph requirements in a stricter way than other consulates.” Shortly after receiving ADC’s Aug. 13 letter, a representative from the State Department contacted ADC, to apologize for the family‘s frustrating experience and to clarify that it was a “complete mistake” for the pictures to have been rejected. The statement made clear that headscarves are allowed to be worn in passport photographs when worn for religious reasons and provided the full face is visible. Hairlines and ears need not be shown.
EXCERPTS OF ADC LETTER TO ACS IN JERUSALEM
The purpose of this letter is to express ADC’s strong concern regarding a U.S. citizen‘s attempt to have her two daughters’ passport photos renewed at the Jerusalem Consulate. On May 9, 2003, Ms. Carol Douglas-Talhami went to the US Consulate in East Jerusalem to renew passports for her two daughters (ages 12 & 14). After submitting the required photographs, the pictures were rejected because the two girls were wearing headscarves that covered their ears, hairline, and part of their foreheads. Because of this, Ms. Douglas-Talhami, submitted a second set of pictures, this time with her daughters’ headscarves pulled back to the hairline and to the edge of their ears (though both were still covered), fully showing their entire faces. Again, the pictures were rejected. Ms. Douglas-Talhami was informed that the pictures would only be accepted if the girls’ hairline and at least one ear were visible.
According to Ms. Douglas-Talhami’s deeply-valued religious beliefs, headscarves must cover the hairline and ears when in public. Ms. Douglas-Talhami, as well as both of her daughters, wear their headscarves in this fashion on a daily basis. In the second set of pictures submitted, the girls had pulled back their headscarves, according to Ms. Douglas-Talhami, “to the maximum Islamically allowable limit.” To force them to go farther, would require that she and her daughters violate their faith.
Causing further confusion and frustration to Ms. Douglas-Talhami, she reports having successfully submitted, twice before, her own passport photos with her hairline and ears entirely covered by her headscarf. She had no problems whatsoever when submitting these photographs. She further alleges that many of her female friends have submitted similar photographs with their hairline and ears covered by their scarves, with complete success. Moreover, Ms. Douglas- Talhami was informed by the ACS office in Riyadh that ears need not be shown in passport photographs, and that only the “full face” need be shown. This is documented in an email sent by the Riyadh ACS office to Ms. Douglas-Talhami.
In keeping with the State Department’s requirement for passport photographs, Ms. Douglas-Talhami offered to submit a formal letter of explanation to accompany her daughters’ photographs, explaining that the scarves are worn on a daily basis for religious reasons. The requirements state: “If wearing headcovering daily for religious or medical reasons include a statement explaining that.” Although the requirements additionally state that a headgear should not be worn that “obscures the hair or hairline,” nothing in the requirements suggest that at least one ear must be shown. Moreover, the hairline requirement seems either to not be rigorously enforced, or subsumed by the right to wear a headscarf if “for religious ?reasons.” As stated above, Ms. Douglas-Talhami herself, as well as many of her friends, have successfully submitted passport pictures with their ears and hairline fully veiled, a fact confirmed by the Riyadh ACS office.
ADC strongly urges you to assist Mrs. Douglas-Talhami in renewing her daughters’ passport photographs as soon as possible. At the very least, justification should be given as to why the Jerusalem consulate seems to apply the photograph requirements in a stricter way than other consulates in the United States and Riyadh. ADC also feels that an apology is in order if the alleged facts are in fact true. It is crucial that this be resolved, as it appears to be a restriction on the two girls‘ constitutional right to freedom of religion. Thank you for your assistance in addressing this matter. We look forward to your response.