Tuesday, May 10, 2005

In West Virginia, even Jesus Christ needs proper identification to get a driver’s license.

Mr. Christ recently moved to West Virginia from the District, where he got a driver’s license, a passport and a Social Security card bearing his name.

But the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles says that’s not enough because he has not officially changed his name.

The name that appears on his Florida birth certificate — Peter Robert Phillips Jr. — is the one that must be displayed on his license, West Virginia DMV officials say.

Mr. Christ, who is in his 50s, changed his name about 15 years ago.

In 2001, he obtained his driver’s license under the name Jesus Christ in the District. In court documents, Mr. Christ and his attorney A.P. Pishevar cite a 1977 common-law ruling that allows name changes without legal proceedings.

“It started as an expression of his faith,” Mr. Pishevar said yesterday. “But he wanted his property in his name, so now he needs it documented for legal reasons.”

A bus driver for the developmentally disabled, Mr. Christ applied for the legal name change in May 2003.

But, a D.C. Superior Court judge denied his request a month later because taking the name of Jesus Christ “may provoke a violent reaction or may significantly offend people.”

Last month, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed that decision and sent the case back to the lower court, which must set a new hearing in Mr. Christ’s case.

Mr. Christ now lives in Lost River, W.Va., about 120 miles from the District.

But, DMV officials there said they just need official documentation that Jesus Christ is his name before they can issue him a driver’s license.

“We will not use a driver’s license as a primary form of identification,” said Doug Thompson, the state’s DMV manager of driver’s licenses. “We would need a certified document showing any name changes since birth, such as a marriage or divorce certificate, or a court order.”

Mr. Pishevar, who describes Mr. Christ as a tall, pale-skinned man with long white hair, said his client is “very private.” He said Mr. Christ has been using the name without any problems.

“Maybe a snicker here and there, but it’s mostly just a conversation piece,” Mr. Pishevar said. “He takes [the situation] very seriously, but he does recognize the tongue-in-cheek humor of it.”

Mr. Christ did not answer telephone calls at his residence yesterday.

“Christ is not speaking to the press at this time,” Mr. Pishevar said.

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