An Amish couple with 13 children sued the federal government on Wednesday, accusing officials of violating their constitutional rights by insisting that they provide photographs of themselves before the Canadian wife's request to become a permanent U.S. resident can be approved.
The Indiana couple won't allow themselves to be photographed "for any reason," in keeping with their Old Order Amish belief that photos of people are "graven images" prohibited by the biblical Second Commandment, the lawsuit states.
Their complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis as a last resort after federal officials repeatedly refused to accommodate the couple and "their sincerely held religious beliefs" and other efforts failed to resolve the dispute, it contends.
The U.S., the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the two agencies' leaders are named as defendants. Both agencies said Wednesday that they don't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit identifies the couple only as John and Jane Doe and contends that revealing their identities "would force them to further compromise their religious beliefs, including the prohibition against acts of self-promotion."
They wed in 2014 after the now 44-year-old man's first wife died from complications during childbirth, leaving him widowed with 11 children. The man and his 42-year-old second wife now have two children of their own and live with the 13 children in an Amish farming community in southern Indiana.
In January 2015, Jane Doe applied to become a U.S. permanent resident and she and her husband submitted all of the required documentation, save the photos, and appeared for immigration interviews, the lawsuit says.
"Because—and only because—neither John Doe nor Jane Doe would submit pictures of themselves, the United States denied Jane Doe the opportunity to become a U.S. permanent resident. This denial is on-going," it says.
After being rebuffed by agency officials, Sampson said the couple and their attorneys reached out to various Department of Justice administrative and congressional officials but were unable to resolve the matter without litigation.
One of their attorneys, Michael H. Sampson, said the couple is out of options, aside from the wife leaving the U.S. and her family behind or all 15 of them leaving the country.
"Their fear is certainly that an adverse outcome could leave them torn apart by a border and they want to live together. All 13 children and the husband are American citizens and they've only ever lived in the United States," he said. "They want avoid being torn apart across nations."
The lawsuit contends that the federal government's refusal to accommodate the couple and their beliefs violates their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, free speech and the right to freedom of association, as well as their Fifth Amendment due process rights.
Sampson said that to his knowledge, no court "has ruled on the substance" of religious prohibitions against photos that the lawsuit raises.
He said the couple is open to providing biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or iris scans, but they believe that "the photograph requirement, especially without any exception allowed for religious beliefs, is unconstitutional and a violation of various statutes."