Posted by: bridget | 21 October 2006

Sanity… going, going, gone.

No, the Florida Muslims did not start the insanity.

Back in the 1980s, the Eighth Circuit held that the state’s requirement for photographs on driver’s licenses violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  (See, Quaring v. Peterson, 728 F.2d 1121) A non-demoninational Christian woman, who took the Second Commandment to mean that God prohibits the making of any earthly images (especially those of humans), she objected to the requirement of having her photo taken.  The Eighth Circuit agreed, holding that Nebraska’s requirement was a substantial burden on Mrs. Quaring’s religious beliefs.

The Eighth Circuit stated, emphatically, that it is not the arbiter of religious beliefs.   Although Ms. Quaring’s prohibition on any images or likenesses is not shared by other Christians, it is still a valid religious belief, according to the court.  Now, some problems with this.  The Second Commandment prohibits the making of “graven images.” According to standard statutory construction, words are not useless nor redundant.  Should the Lord not have wanted us to have any images, He would have, in His wisdom, eliminated “graven”from His Commandments.  He did not.  As such, the Nebraska DMV is not asking Ms. Quaring to violate the Second Commandment: driver’s license photos are flat.  A graven image implies something that is three-dimensional; or something carved and sculpted.

Furthermore, the DMV is hardly requiring Ms. Quaring to have her picture taken; they are hardly accosting her at her farm, dragging her into a photo studio, and making her America’s Next Top Model.   The Eighth Circuit found, however, that driver’s licenses are necessities.  Heaven only knows what will happen when this reasoning is brought to its logical conclusion.

The Court cited Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), in holding that a state can infringe upon religious liberties by withholding benefits.  Problem: the Sherbert court relied upon the fact that a Sunday Sabbath worshipper was exempted from the requirements, but a person who worships on Saturdays was not exempt.  By the state’s own statute, the plaintiff should have been able to seek unemployment benefits:

“(b) In determining whether or not any work is suitable for an individual, the Commission shall consider the degree of risk involved to his health, safety and morals, his physical fitness and prior training, his experience and prior earnings, his length of unemployment and prospects for securing local work in his customary occupation and the distance of the available work from his residence.”
The Eighth Circuit’s reasoning is very charming.  Among its better reasons for denying that the state has a substantial (and, obviously, narrowly tailored) interest in having a photograph requirement, the Court stated, “In addition, motorists licensed in the few states that do not require photograph licenses presumably drive through Nebraska on occasion, and those persons would be unable to present driver’s licenses containing their photographs.”  Apparently, the Eighth Circuit does not understand that the Full Faith and Credit Clause, as well as the Commerce Clause, and, arguably, most of Art. I, Sec. 10, requires the state to allow such drivers in its borders.

Why does 1984 matter?  As mentioned in previous bloggings, in 2008, federal law will require photo identification for all federal elections.  (The requirement, to be phased in by 2010, that all persons show proof of citizenship will matter less; a birth certificate will not present the same problems.)  Are we ready for the fun?

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