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

Pastor Mark Powell of Whiteland church denied

INDIANAPOLIS - A passport request by a Lutheran pastor from Whiteland that was denied because he was wearing a clerical collar in his picture was done in error, the U.S. Department of State said Friday.

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.

"It didn't say anywhere on the application that this is not normal attire for someone who is a pastor or a priest," Powell told RTV6. "I thought about it, I prayed about it, and I called up the number they had given me if I had any questions, and I did have some questions."

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 every day as part of my religious beliefs and practice as an ordained Lutheran pastor," he said in a statement.

On Friday afternoon, a state department spokeswoman told RTV6 that the passport denial was made in error.

"We can confirm that a passport application was initially denied in error and we have contacted the applicant," said spokeswoman Noel Clay. "We sincerely regret any inconvenience to the applicant."

The Liberty Institute had 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."

When asked if he has forgiven the agency for the mistake, Powell said, "of course."

"I'm a pastor, I'm in the forgiveness business," he said.

 

Powell said he hopes his experience will lead to a policy change so other members of the clergy don't have the same problem.