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Muslim woman must drop veil for license
( 2003-06-08 11:25) (7)

A Muslim woman who cited religious reasons in refusing to remove her veil for a driver's license photo must show her face for the camera if she wants her license reinstated, a Florida judge ruled Friday.

In a case that pitted claims of religious freedom against security concerns, Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe ruled that Florida has a compelling interest in identifying drivers during traffic stops and that photo images are essential to promote that interest.

"The requirement that all potential drivers have their driver's license photos taken unveiled, uncloaked and unmasked does not unconstitutionally burden the free exercise of religion," the judge wrote.

The plaintiff, Sultaana Freeman, obtained a Florida driver's license that showed her wearing a black veil with only her eyes uncovered in February 2001.

Seven months later, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles notified her that her license would be revoked unless she was photographed with her face showing.

Freeman refused, saying her faith did not permit her to reveal her face to strangers or men outside her family. The 35-year-old U.S. citizen has worn a full veil since converting to Islam about six years ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on her behalf, arguing that revoking the license violated her right to religious freedom. They said the state acted out of prejudice against Muslims and only objected to the veiled photograph after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Attorneys for the state said Florida has a legitimate public safety interest in establishing drivers' identities. They said the original license was issued in error and that if Freeman were allowed to hide her face in her license photo, terrorists could do the same. They also said she could be photographed privately by a female licensing official.

Islamic scholars differ widely on the religious requirement of veiling for women, as well as the extent of what the faithful call "modest dress." As a result, practice among Muslims varies widely.

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