Sunday, September 25, 2011

Religious Beliefs and Driver's License Photos


In Norman, Oklahoma Kaye Beach is suing the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety for not allowing her an alternative to a high-resolution biometric photo for her driver’s license. The Department of Public Safety in Oklahoma requires all new drivers’ license photos to be taken with a high-resolution biometric camera and the photo to be stored in a database that can be accessed by international organizations. Beach, a devout Christian, strongly believes that Christians should not participate in any global numbering identification systems and sites passages from the Book of Revelation as her evidence for objecting to having the photo taken.

In March, Beach applied to renew her driver’s licenses and upon learning that biometric photographs were used she sought out the Department of Public Safety and tried to arrange for an accommodation to be made, specifically stating that the reason for her not getting the photograph taken was for religious beliefs. Beach even offered to submit a low-resolution photograph to be used instead of the high-resolution biometric photograph. The Department of Public Safety denied her request for submitting a low-resolution photo and did not offer any other alternatives to her. Beach therefore, does not have a valid driver’s license which means that she is being deprived of common benefits and services such as, being able to obtain prescription medications, rent a hotel room, or use her debit card. Beach claims that by not granting her an exception the state is in violation of the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, specifically claiming that having high-resolution biometric photographs does not serve a compelling state interest and therefore, her right to religious freedom is being denied.

The clause of the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act that is being challenged is section 51-253 that states, “No governmental entity shall substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is: essential to further a compelling governmental interest, and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest”.

I believe that Beach will win this case. By not allowing her to renew her license with anything less than a high-resolution biometric photograph, Beach’s rights are being infringed upon. She sincerely has a religious belief that restricts her from getting a biometric photograph taken and then entered into database that could be accessed internationally. The state should allow her to submit a low-resolution photo to be used for her driver’s license. While I understand the desire of the state to use a high-resolution biometric photograph for drivers’ licenses it should not be the only option. Requiring all drivers’ license photographs to be a high-resolution biometric photograph is not “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest”. So, due to her religious beliefs, Beach does not have a valid driver’s license and consequently, she is being deprived of everyday liberties that many of us take for granted. Therefore, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is substantially burdening Kaye Beach and is in violation of the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.

14 comments:

Elena T said...

I do understand Beach's beliefs, however I do feel that this case could go either way due to the fact that this could be a matter of security. I do feel that it would be in violation of her constitutional rights, but when everyone wants a low resolution photo and claims it's due to their religious beliefs what will be done?

Harry R. said...

I do not agree with Sam in this case. While Beach claims to have a sincere religious belief, I question whether she is truly sincere in this instance. Claiming that governmental possession of a photo is a numbering system is questionable in my opinion. Also, does Beach have a social security number? Credit card number? Email address? Unless Beach has made a sincere attempt to remove herself from these other "global numbering identification systems," I feel that she is inappropriately using her religious beliefs selectively to achieve her own goals.

Casey K said...

I agree with Harry here. I would also be interested in hearing why the state has decided to use high-resolution biometric photographs. Reynolds v. US tells us that the government can limit free exercise of religion if the government has a compelling interest in limiting these rights. Though I do not know all the facts about the new photos, I would think they give the government better means to provide security to the state. There must be some benefits to the new photos, and if the government has a compelling interest in requiring them, they should win this case.

Allison S said...

I agree with Sam. Since Beach claims to have a religious belief that prevents her from using biometric photos and has provided another option that still produces a photo for the license, I do not understand why the State won’t allow it. Adding a low resolution photo cannot be that difficult to manage, and would still allow Beach to have a credit card and the other things you need a license to have. Although I understand Harry’s point regarding the social security number, I do not see any goals she achieves by “inappropriately using her religious belief”. What are the gains for making it more difficult for her to take a driver’s license photo? Ultimately I think that since Beach has offered to send in a low resolution photo, the State can easily add that to her license and give her back the liberties they took away.

Ashley R said...

Harry brings up good points: the driver’s license does not constitute a numbering system and has Beach made similar attempts to remove herself from other numbering systems? As to the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, I do not think that the driver’s license stipulation is a “substantial” burden on Beach’s religious freedom. Furthermore, I do not think biometric high-resolution images are a “compelling governmental interest.” Assuming that a driver’s license is a numbering system and that Beach is not involved in any numbering systems (including Social Security) because of her faith, she has a case. However, I doubt a driver’s license is considered a numbering system, and Beach most likely has not removed herself from other numbering systems. If both of these latter claims are true, Beach has no case.

Ally R said...

I agree with Sam, as long as there are others who can back up Beach's religious claims. With our current technologically based society, it should not be difficult to find an alternate, and equally valuable form of photography for licenses. By refusing to let Beach use an alternate form of identification the state is inhibiting her ability to live her daily life. I do not believe something as simple as a photograph should cause a complication resulting in the incapability to use things such as a credit card, therefore infringing upon her rights, even though a solution could be reached that was neither a burden for Beach, nor the state.

Grant Z said...

I disagree with Sam in this case. If Oklahoma has enough reason to switch to more expensive biometric photographs, then this program will probably make citizens safer in some way. Once you make an exception to the requirement, then anyone (including criminals) could apply for that same exemption and whatever gains in security there had been would be lost. Beach has every right to believe that she shouldn't participate in this, but I think there will be enough of a "compelling state interest" argument that she will not be able to act on that belief.

Jack Ness said...

I disagree with Sam on this topic. I think that it is impossible to judge sincerity. How do we know that Beach is simply looking for a way out of having a high-resolution photograph taken of her? I also feel that biometric images are certainly a "compelling governmental interest". Fake ID's and other identification issues are a big problem in our country, and a high-resolution photo helps to solve this problem. I don't see how Beach has a case at all.

Zoey Goldnick said...

I think that there is a compelling state interest in insuring proper procedure for identification. Identity fraud could be an example of the reasoning for this. Although I do agree that Beach's motives seem to be questionable, I am unsure whether or not we can judge her sincerity as a reason for not granting her religious freedom. I think the case that the state's interests rise above her constitutional right to tamper with uniform identification is a valid case that does not get involved in judging her religious beliefs as questionable

Molly Veelguski said...

I disagree with Sam. Like Harry, I too question the sincerity of Beach's beliefs. It seems a little too odd that she has these strict restrictions of her photo being taken. Beach should understand that having a license is a privilege and should be able to make an exception in order to receive this privilege. Not just anyone is eligible to earn a license. Oklahoma obviously has reasons for requiring citizens to have photos taken in high-resolution and the reason is most likely for safety and security. Like how others have stated before, there are too many issues regarding false identification and fraud. These new licenses with high resolution could be the solution to their problem. All in all, Beach can believe anything she wants but in the end, there will be more state interest in ensuring a proper identification process.

David P said...

Although she has offered to submit a low resolution picture in place of the high resolution biometric picture, I do not think she will win the case. Despite a clear fear of the apocalypse, the system serves a greater good to society and herself for identification and safety purposes. One could argue that her short term safety could prove null and void if the second coming happens in her lifetime, but that will happen based on the presence of the system at all, which clearly does exist. The greater good of her safety and identification overpowers her feelings.

Grace R said...

I do not agree with Sam. I believe that the state had every right refusing her an alternative. Beach's claims are questionable at best. While she brings forth evidence to her beliefs, it still doesn't seem to add up. However, even if it did, these pictures are not for vanity, they are for national security. While I can not claim to be supremely knowledgeable in how these new high-resolution photos are so different, I do believe that they are a fairly basic way of maintaining law and order. The limits of free exercise are plainly showed in this case, when state interest trumps personal religious beliefs.

Christy said...

I do not agree with Sam due to the fact that one must weigh the costs on either side of the argument. If Beach actually is sincere and believes it goes against her religious beliefs, and the court agrees, then the public could be in danger of Beach not having a high resolution picture in the system. On the other hand, if the court rules against Beach, some would say the government is withholding her individual rights. In order to secure the protection and safety of the public, Beach should not win this case.

Justin E said...

I am a devout christian and I have never heard of such beliefs. Where in the bible does it say that Christians should not become a part of a number system. I believe this is a perfect example of someone using religion as an excuse to get out of the law. This is a slippery slop, if we let Beach get away with his argument how many will follow. Sometimes the law should reside over religion, this is one of those times. This is a matter of national safety.