The Associated Press reports that experts in Islamic law are being summoned to testify at the trial of Sultanna Freeman, a 35-year-old Muslim woman whose religious rights, she claims, have been violated by the state of Florida. How? Sunshine State officials say Freeman must allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to photograph her whole face -- not just a veil-shrouded slit around her eyes -- if she wants a state driver's license. She maintains that submitting to the DMV mugshot-maker would be "disobeying my Lord" because she would briefly -- just the pop of a flash bulb -- have to drop the hijab (a head- and face-masking veil).
Let's hope the experts have easy access to the copy of the Koran that has been entered into trial evidence, because finding a chapter on "my Lord" and "my driver's license" is going to take some doing. Meanwhile, the state plods on, dusting off arguments grounded so deeply in common sense they haven't before seen the light of day.
"It's the primary method of identification in Florida and the nation," explained state Assistant Attorney General Jason Vail to the Associated Press, rather patiently referring to the snapshots that appear on driver's licenses. "I don't think there can be any doubt there is a public safety interest."
While there may indeed be a case against DMVs everywhere for foisting consistently gruesome I.D. photos of the public on the public (mental cruelty? identity theft?), turning a full-face snapshot into a full-frontal clash between East and West takes multiculturalism to a new extreme. My hunch is Freeman's case won't fly -- and it certainly shouldn't drive.
Which, of course, is an option for Freeman, one already, if non-freely, exercised by her Muslim sisters in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab is mandatory and female drivers are against the law. Sultanna, however, being a good American, prefers to litigate. "This is about religious liberty," said her lawyer Howard Marks, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, opening proceedings in Freeman's nonjury lawsuit against the state. "This is about whether this country is going to have religious diversity.
Allowing the state to chip away at religious liberties is not a path we want to go down."
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