Posted on Tue, May. 27, 2003
Veil photo on license to get test in court
ORLANDO - (AP) -- Nine months after Sultaana Freeman obtained a Florida driver's license that had a photo of her face covered in a veil, she received a letter from the state warning that it would revoke her license unless she returned for a photo with her face uncovered.
The 35-year-old Muslim refused, saying that revealing her face would violate her beliefs, and the license was revoked. A judge today will begin hearing her lawsuit, which seeks to have her license reinstated. The case pits religious freedom against the state's argument that allowing hidden faces on driver's licenses would put public safety at risk.
Freeman's attorney, Howard Marks, who was hired by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said that his client believes that taking a photograph of her face would violate the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
''She believes her religion prohibits taking pictures of facial features,'' Marks said.
But Florida's attorneys argue that having a license photo in which the driver's face is readily identifiable is an issue of public safety.
The veil reveals only Freeman's eyes.
''Driver's license photos are used by police officers in many circumstances, from using the digital images in a computer data bank to help identify criminals, missing persons, victims of crime,'' said Jason Vail, an assistant attorney general. ``The photo is the primary biometric measure for determining identity.''
Other religious Muslim women have their uncovered faces photographed for their licenses, and the driver's license bureau can make special arrangements, such as asking all men in the area to leave when a religious woman has her face exposed for the picture, Vail said.
''Our position is lifting her veil for the photograph doesn't violate her religious beliefs,'' Vail said.
Both sides plan to call experts on Muslim law.
But Marks said that is beside the point since a person's beliefs don't have to be part of a greater religious doctrine to be protected under Florida law.
''Whether one Muslim woman does it or two Muslim women do it, as long as my client believes her religious beliefs prohibit it,'' Marks said. ``It is not for the court to be an arbiter of religious scripture.''
Many other states issue driver's licenses without photographs, and Florida issues thousands of driver's training permits annually that don't have photos, Marks said. Other courts also have ruled that fundamentalist Christians who also have religious prohibitions against having their photographs taken can get licenses without one.
Freeman, a housewife who moved from Illinois more than two years ago, received the letter warning that her driver's license would be revoked three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Marks said it was not a coincidence.
Vail denied any relation.
''It had nothing to do with [the attacks],'' Vail said. ``The timing was coincidence.''
source: The Miami Herald 5/27/03
So, she can't show her face, but she can drive a car?