Thursday, May 29, 2003

Rights and Reason: Muslim Woman Sues to Wear Veil for License

A Muslim woman has brought suit against the state of Florida for threatening to revoke her drivers license after she refused to remove her veil for her drivers license photo. The question at bar is if Florida has a compelling interest in regulating drivers that overrides the religious protections afforded one of its citizens. Florida's own conduct in issuing drivers licenses would indicate it does not, as it routinely issues drivers licenses without photos. According to the ACLU, which is representing the woman in court:

Florida officials issued more than 800,000 temporary licenses and/or driving permits - without photographs - in the past five years to individuals in a variety of different categories. Convicted drunk drivers with revoked licenses are legally allowed to drive in Florida using only driving permits without photographs, as are foreign nationals, those who failed their eye or written exams and military personnel.
A drivers license may serve as a proxy for an ID, but in fact, it is nothing more than a license to operate a motor vehicle on government highways. Such a license should not demand invading an individual's privacy if they wish to maintain it.

If the question before the court was regarding the woman's passport, for example, I would probably side with the woman having to remove her veil if she wished to be issued a passport on the grounds that a passport serves as a form of identification and demands the means to physically identify the person in question. But then again, perhaps an individual who objected to having their photo taken could simply provide fingerprints or DNA. If it takes forever to process them, that's their own fault, but I think it is at least possible to provide them reasonable accommodations as they act on their convictions.

In my mind, this particular dispute is an open and shut case. We'll see if the court sees it that way.

UPDATE: This jucy tidbit from the Smoking Gun:

Turns out the Florida woman who is suing for the right to wear a Muslim headdress in a driver's license photograph has previously been subjected to an, um, unveiled government portrait. Following her 1997 conversion to Islam, Sultaana Freeman (formerly Sandra Keller) was arrested in Decatur, Illinois for battering a foster child. Freeman, 35, pleaded guilty in 1999 to felony aggravated battery and was sentenced to 18 months probation. As a result of the conviction, state officials removed two foster children from Freeman's care.
And of course, they got pictures.

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