Monday, June 02, 2003

Freedom of What?
One of the fantastic things about America’s constitution is that it protects freedom of religion for all of its citizens (or at least it does so in principle). One component of this freedom that makes it fair for everyone is that it does not protect religious practices that are in violation of preexisting laws. Sultaana Freeman does not seem to understand this. Simply enough, the law states that in order to receive a legal Florida driver license, your identification needs to have a full facial photograph. As generally suspicious I am of mandates that might interfere with a person’s personal freedom, I think this issue addresses public safety as much as an individual’s rights. States do not demand photo IDs for the purpose of alienating or embarrassing people; they are there as an efficient and effective form of identification that (in theory) cannot be easily falsified. A photograph of a pair of eyes just isn’t enough to make a complete identification.

Freeman argues that her photo ID only needs to show her veiled face because, in the event of an altercation with the law, she will still be wearing her veil. (It is harong, forbidden, for her to show her face to men who are not in her family, and it is also forbidden for her to let her entire face be captured by a photograph.) The problem with this argument is that, if in fact she is pulled over, it is necessary to determine positively that the driver of the car is the owner of the license, and it will be necessary for her to reveal her entire face to the officer anyway. In the event of a health emergency, it would also be best if the photo could be indisputably matched to her face. Furthermore, for her own security, it is in her best interest to show her entire face on her identification; it is much easier to fraudulently use a veiled ID than a full-face photo.

Fairly enough, some might perceive that forcing Freeman to lift her veil is an unfair target at Muslims, especially given America’s recent increase in fear of all things Middle Eastern. I can’t deny that American legislation doesn’t discriminate against people from that region (see Patriot Act, for example), nor can I deny that Americans in general harbor unwarranted fear and hatred towards Middle Easterners. I can say, however, that not showing your face on a photo used for official purposes is a breach of positive identification, regardless of what reasons might prompt you to conceal your face.

This is not a matter of a basketball player refusing to stand for the Star Spangled Banner, or Jehovah’s Witness parents refusing to let their student participate in Halloween celebrations at school. Those choices are protected by our constitution because they do not interfere with safety or law enforcement. Freeman should not enjoy such protection.


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