If you want to get a driver's license, you're going to have to show your face. In light of security concerns, states are ending their previous practices of allowing religious exemptions for some individuals who didn't want to have their photographs taken.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is challenging a 1984 Superior Court ruling that found in favor of a Berkeley man who wanted a license without a picture because his church forbids graven images. And in Florida, a Muslim woman last summer lost a case in which she argued she could not remove her veil for the photo.
The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that while religious views can't be discriminated against, they also aren't a reason for exemption from rules that apply to the entire population, says Berkeley law professor Jesse Choper. "As long as everybody's affected, people with religious beliefs are not entitled to any special treatment," he says, adding that state courts have weakened religious protections as well.
As far as states are concerned, issues of security override individuals' beliefs, says Jason King, of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. "In the United States of America, you really can't be anonymous and demand services," he says. "Holding a driver's license essentially validates your presence in the United States."
Noting that DMVs are being burdened with establishing proof of identity for people wanting to board airplanes and enter office buildings, King adds that his members hope Congress, which is considering a new transportation bill, will include additional funding for DMVs to verify that the person in the picture is who he says he is.