- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

The term "proper identification" has taken on a much more serious meaning since September 11. Some people are going too far, calling for a national ID card. But how about the other end of the spectrum? What of the Florida woman who, because of her Muslim religious beliefs, refuses to remove her veil so her face can be photographed for her driver's license?

Sultaana Freeman of Winter Park, Fla., will not allow her unmasked face to be photographed by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Only her eyes show on the license she was issued. The state subsequently revoked the license on the altogether reasonable basis that it could be almost anyone in that picture, and it is therefore useless as identification. Florida motor vehicles spokesman Peter Stoumbelis told Reuters that Mrs. Freeman "really shouldn't have been licensed in the first place," and that the reasons should be obvious. Mrs. Freeman predictably has sued the state of Florida with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, which trotted out the swaybacked nag that the state cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." A state judge sided with her as well, ordering officials to demonstrate why they insist upon snapping the picture of Mrs. Freeman sans veil.

It's kind of hard to grasp, though, how having a recognizable picture, taken for legitimate identification purposes, constitutes any kind of meaningful burden upon a person's free exercise of religion. No one, for instance, is impeding Mrs. Freeman from going to the mosque of her choice, expressing her Islamic beliefs or living her life in accordance with Muslim doctrine within the bounds of law. That last caveat is key. Mormons are no longer able to legally practice polygamy, even though it could be argued that secular laws forbidding it "burden" the Mormons' free exercise of their professed religious beliefs. Some Christians once believed in stoning witches and others to death. Pagans think human sacrifices are necessary to appease their gods. But the law doesn't allow those things, either. At some point, a line has to be drawn, and that line usually presents itself where innocent third parties can become involved.

Driver's licenses and passports are not items to which one is entitled by right. They are privileges conferred by the government. No one can require Mrs. Freeman to drive a car, but if she wants to do it in Florida, she'll have to abide by Florida's rules setting out licensing procedures. It's that simple.


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