Saturday, June 07, 2003
So much of this AP article on the Sultaana Freeman decision is cringe-worthy, I barely know where to start:
A Florida judge ruled Friday that a Muslim woman cannot wear a veil in her driver license photo, agreeing with state authorities that the practice could help terrorists conceal their identities.
While true, this seems like a pretty dumb reason. Why is everything about terrorism, anyway? What about perfectly ordinary concerns, like the inability to actually ensure that the person presenting the driver's license is, in fact, the same person licensed to drive?
Freeman, 35, had obtained a license in 2001 that showed her veiled with only her eyes visible through a slit.
What??!? Can she make up a fake name, too?
Freeman sued the state of Florida, saying it would violate her Islamic beliefs to show her face publicly. Her case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union, which saw the case as a test of religious freedom.
It's cases like this that make me glad I'm not an ACLU member. Since when is it an infringement of "religious freedom" to require people to take a photograph in exchange for the privilege of being allowed to operate a vehicle on a public road? If Ms. Freeman won't show her face in public, the state certainly shouldn't compel her -- it should simply withhold her driver's license, and point her to the nearest bus stop. The ACLU's position seems to be that driving is now a civil right. It isn't: driving is a privilege, though one routinely granted. The state certainly shouldn't base its decision on whom to license based on religion -- but they do have to meet basic requirements, and getting a photo ID is one of them. I mean, really, what if tomorrow I declare that my "religion" prohibits me from following "infidel" speed limits and using turn signals -- would the ACLU have the state issue me a special dispensation, or are we going to start having official certification as to what is and isn't a religion? (Better yet, what is and isn't really Islam -- since millions of Muslims, women and men, drive on American roads with their faces uncovered.) What the hell was the ACLU thinking?
Conservative commentators ridiculed the case, saying it would be absurd to allow people to obscure their faces in ID photos.
Nice little bit of editorializing by Mr. Branom -- as if a huge number of people from all over the political spectrum didn't find this case absurd. Naturally, no one else in this story gets painted with a wide political brush. Only those "conservative commentators" ridiculed a case in which a woman wants to have her ID photo consist of a black cloth.
Assistant Attorney General Jason Vail had argued that Islamic law has exceptions that allow women to expose their faces if it serves a public good...
Oh great, now we have theological arguments from a Florida bureaucrat, in a public court. What was Mr. Vail's point, anyway? What if Ms. Freeman's beliefs disagree with those teachings of Islam? Is he seriously going to make an argument that Ms. Freeman is misinterpreting the word of Allah? That sounds like just the issue for a court of law -- in Saudi Arabia.
...and that arrangements could be made to have Freeman photographed with only women present to allay her concerns about modesty.
Surely the man jests. What happens if this woman gets pulled over, and the policeman is male? Does he have to call a female officer to match the driver's license? What if it happens on a city street -- will the street have to be cleared to protect this woman's "modesty"? If she ever gets arrested, will the ACLU be up in arms because she was touched by a male stranger, or taken away from male relatives, in violation of her religion?
The ACLU of Florida said it was disappointed in Thorpe's statement that while Freeman "most likely poses no threat to national security," others may take advantage of a ruling in her favor to threaten lives. "So we have to infringe on Freeman's religious beliefs because of what someone else might do," ACLU legal director Randall Marshall said. "It seems to be a funny kind of interpretation on how the law should apply."
Only because it's "a funny kind of interpretation" of what really happened. No one infringed on Freeman's religious beliefs -- her beliefs simply happen to get in the way of what she wants to do -- namely, drive a car on Florida roads. That's too bad, but it does not obligate the state of Florida or the society at large to suspend its own (entirely sensible) rules. Plenty of people manage to get by without driving automobiles -- it is positively ludicrous to claim that refusing someone a license is a violation of anything.

And yes, all our security measures are in place "because of what someone else might do." All people in the U.S. are presumed innocent until proven otherwise -- surely an ACLU attorney understands that!

Marshall noted that a driver license can be obtained without a photo in 14 states.
Is Florida one of them? No? Then our newly pious woman is out of luck. Perhaps Mr. Marshall can forward her a list of those states, so that she may move to one and drive to her heart's content.
Freeman's lawyers argued that instead of a driver license photo, she could use other documents such as a birth certificate or Social Security card to prove her identity.
How exactly would she do that? Those normally don't come with photos.

This whole case is idiotic. Florida requires a photo in order to permit you to drive on public roads. No photo, no license. A license isn't a right. End of story.

Update: James Taranto links to an editorial in Arab News that essentially makes the same point:

In Arabia, those who choose not to have their pictures taken remain in the country and never get issued passports. Sultaana should relinquish her right to drive if she feels the same way.
Exactly. If she wants to be treated like a fundamentalist Wahhabi woman, she ought to behave like one -- i.e., stay at home and let her husband handle everything else. Imagine that: Arab News making more sense than the ACLU, attorneys for both sides, and even the judge.

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