John Leo
Does the state have the right to require a recognizable photo on drivers' licenses? Yes, I think so, even if drivers raise religious or moral objections.

The issue is now before a Florida court as a civil suit, brought by a Muslim housewife, Sultanna Freeman and the state ACLU. Ms. Freeman wears a niqab, an Islamic veil that covers her entire head except for her eyes. Her religious beliefs dictate that she not reveal her face to strangers or men outside the family.

Though Florida says it wants to accommodate drivers from various cultures, it draws the line at ID photos that are, in effect, useless for identification. The state allowed a veiled photo when Ms. Freeman first applied for a license, before the terror attacks of Sept. 11. But now it wants her to pose for a full facial picture like all other drivers. In late June, a Florida judge ruled that Ms, Freeman could proceed with her suit against the state.

Robert Sanchez of Florida's department of highway safety and motor vehicles raised the common-sense objection to a veiled photo: Police need to know that the person presenting the photo is the person pictured on it. He adds that law enforcement often requires people to do things that offend modesty or religious principles, for instance, submitting to a strip search. Ms. Freeman's lawyers argue that 12 states do not require photos if religious objections are raised.

As a matter of public policy, Florida has a strong case. Having drivers' faces visible in license photos is an obvious issue of public safety, particularly after the events of 9/11. Presumably even the most diversity-minded public officials will have trouble coming out in favor of ID photos that leave faces almost totally obscured.

Imagine that a woman in front of you at an airport security check is wearing a veil. She presents as her legal ID a Florida license showing only her eyes. The airport security personnel have no way of knowing whether the license is actually hers, so they don't really know who she is. But out of cultural sensitivity, they wave her through anyway. Do you really want to fly on that plane?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.