ACLU Supports Burkas And Veils In Photo ID's.

A Florida judge rejected a woman's request to have her face covered by a veil in the photograph on her state driver's license, siding with the state Friday that a favorable ruling could be exploited by terrorists.
The 18-page ruling was issued in Orlando.

"Although the court acknowledges that plaintiff herself most likely poses no threat to national security, there likely are people who would be willing to use a ruling permitting the wearing of full-face cloaks in driver's license photos by pretending to ascribe to religious beliefs in order to carry out activities that would threaten lives," Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe said in her ruling.

Sultaana Freeman, a Muslim, had testified that a state order requesting that she remove her veil -- a hijab, which covers all of her face except her eyes -- infringed upon her right to observe her religion, to which she converted in 1997.

Her attorney, Howard Marks, vowed to appeal the ruling.

"This is just round one in a long legal battle," Marks said. "Obviously, we're quite disappointed with the ruling."

Freeman, wearing a black hijab, refused to comment to reporters. Her husband, Abdul-Maalik Freeman, said his wife would fight the decision.

"She's not lifting the veil. This is a religious principle," he told CNN-affiliate WKMG. "We don't quit. We have a no-quit attitude. We're doing it the appropriate way. We're not doing it the malicious way, the vicious way. We're doing it through the court system."

ACLU: "Ruling counter to religious freedom"

Thorpe ruled that though Freeman held a sincere religious belief that she should wear the hijab in front of all strangers, she did not prove that "the photo requirement itself substantially burdens her right to free exercise of religion" or that the momentarily lifting the veil in a private room for a photo taken by a female officer would be such a burden.

On the other hand, the judge said in the ruling, the state did show that "having access to photo image identification is essential to promote" the state's "compelling interest in protecting the public."

Freeman initially was allowed to wear a veil in her driver's license photograph, as she was allowed to do for a license she got while living in Illinois, but was asked to retake the photo to show her face. When she refused, the state revoked her license.

Lawyers for the state argued that the case touched on public safety issues, saying a driver's license showing only a covered face would hinder law enforcement officials.

State Attorney General Charlie Crist praised the ruling.

"Judge Thorpe clearly made the correct decision," he said in a written release. "While we are respectful of any person's religious practices, this case was solely about safety and security. It was not about religious freedom nor the right to pursue happiness, but instead the privilege to drive a car."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida expressed concern.

"The government's tendency in the aftermath of September 11th has been to restrict numerous freedoms merely for the sake of restricting liberty, rather than to make us truly safer," Florida ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said in a written release.

"Today's ruling runs counter to the most basic principles of religious freedom that give everyone -- including members of minority religious communities as well as majority Christian faiths -- the right to practice and worship as they choose."

Freeman's attorneys had argued that state officials didn't care that she wore a veil in her Florida driver's license photo until after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 -- an allegation the state denies, The Associated Press reported.

Freeman was photographed without a veil after she was arrested in 1998 on a domestic battery charge, AP reported.

She and her husband cited religious reasons for hindering child welfare workers who tried to look for bruises on two twin girls Freeman and her husband were fostering, the child agency workers told investigators, according to police records quoted by AP. Authorities removed the children from the home.


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