NPR: Phil Robertson and Maryjane Bicksler Discuss Hijab Case

“A Rockford woman has filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Secretary of State. The action is done in partnership with a Chicago organization, The Council On American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.

Maryjane Bicksler wears a headscarf, or hijab. She said she when we she was getting her license, she was asked to sign a form that said she would have to wear her scarf at all times in accordance with Illinois law. Her license could be cancelled if officials found that she didn’t. 

“It seems to me that there’s more to this than just a woman wearing a scarf on their heads and I don’t know what that is,” she said. 

The requirement made her angry and confused.

 “I didn’t feel like I had a choice not to sign it because if I left driving without a license, you know, I could get a fine,” she said.

Bicksler’s lawsuit, filed August 26, reads that the requirement to sign the form is "unconstitutional" because religious freedom is constitutionally protected. 

“Defendants refused to let Ms. Bicksler keep a copy of the document, or even to take a picture of it, revealing the state of suspicious secrecy around the whole ordeal,” reads the lawsuit. 

Phil Robertson is the litigation director with CAIR-Chicago and Bicksler's attorney. He said CAIR understands that license pictures need to match the person identified, and their concern is about the language of the form. He says Muslims and Sikhs are disproportionately affected compared to other faith groups like Catholics or Jewish populations. 

“It’s about religious freedom and it should be left in the hands of the individual practitioner to make the decision about when to wear such headwear in public and when not to,” he said.

He says the law is vague in guidance for law enforcement about when it’s appropriate to enforce the rule. 

“Because you would have to have officers out there literally scouting for people not wearing their headwear. Which we don’t think would be a very high priority, but it could at some point become one if they decided to make it one,” said Robertson. 

Bicksler said the Rockford Police Department has a presence at her mosque and among Rockford’s Muslim community. She says the Muslim community has a good relationship with the Rockford Police Department and County Sheriff’s Department. 

She said that although the Qur’an says women should cover their hair: “They’re not forced to, women can choose to wear the scarf or not to wear the scarf.  I would just hope that there is respect and support for what we’re trying to do here,” said Bicksler. 

Robertson said CAIR hopes there is an understanding that the headwear rule is not just about Muslim practitioners, and that it can affect people like nuns or Jewish headwear practitioners. “It really can reach out to other faiths. And I think those individuals who don’t wear headwear, it’s hard for them to relate to that,” he said. “It’s a fairly significant civil rights issue.”

Roberston says CAIR questions if enforcement is happening and if it is falling disproportionately on Muslim and Sikh headwear practitioners. “Are the only people who are signing this form Muslim or Sikhs? We don’t know,” he said.

He said CAIR has talked to the Secretary of State about this rule in the past. The lawsuit requests relief that includes amending the law and compensatory damage. “