Lutheran pastor from Whiteland denied passport over picture with clerical collar, group claims

Pastor Mark Powell of Whiteland church

INDIANAPOLIS - A passport request by a Lutheran pastor from Whiteland was denied because he was wearing a clerical collar in his picture, an advocacy group claims.

The Rev. Mark Powell of the Great Harvest Church applied for a passport in September, but received a denial letter shortly after, according to the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group focused on religious issues.

"The photograph you submitted cannot be used because you were not shown in normal attire," read the letter from the Chicago Passport Agency.

Powell said he was shocked by the denial.

"I am astonished that the U.S. State Department refused to issue my passport simply because I am photographed in my clerical collar, something that I wear everyday as part of my religious beliefs and practice as an ordained Lutheran pastor," he said in a statement.

The Liberty Institute has sent a letter to the U.S. State Department, demanding that Powell be issued a passport using the previously submitted picture.

"The U.S. State Department's refusal to issue a passport to Pastor Powell because he dresses in a clerical collar is not only outrageous, it also violates federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment," Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute's general counsel, said in a statement. "We demand that the State Department stop this infringement upon Pastor Powell's religious liberty rights and issue his passport immediately."

A message left with state department officials had not been returned Friday.

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