JEFFERSON CITY — Women would be prohibited from wearing veils for Missouri driver’s license photographs under a measure approved by the state Senate on Wednesday.
The bill would require all Missouri driver’s license applicants to have their photographs taken. Currently applicants may abstain for religious reasons.
An applicant could receive a driver’s license without a photograph if the photograph is kept on file with the Department of Revenue. The image would also be placed in a database for law enforcement officials.
“The key is for the government to have a photo of everyone,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, who sponsored the bill.
Requiring unobstructed photos on driver’s licenses gained national attention last year when a Florida judge ruled the right to free exercise of religion would not be hampered by requiring a full-face photograph on a driver’s license.
This decision came after Sultanna Freeman sued the state of Florida for revoking her driver’s license after refusing to be photographed without a veil.
Dolan cited identity theft and homeland security as the primary motivators behind the bill.
“We need to be sharper about our homeland security and identification procedures if we expect to play in the millennium,” Dolan said.
Under the new bill, applicants who wish to have their photographs omitted must present a form that verifies the exemption is required by their religious affiliations. They also must have been U.S. citizens for a minimum of five years and residents of Missouri for one year, unless they have valid driver’s licenses from another state.
Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, voiced concerns for the religious rights of the Amish Mennonite community. Some members of the Mennonite community object to having their photographs taken on religious grounds.
“They’re very modest people and they believe the image is boastful,” Cauthorn said.
Applicants who qualify for religious exemptions can go to various locations around the state where they can have their photographs taken discreetly.
Concerns were also raised about the religious rights of Muslims. Under the bill, Muslim women who do not wish to show their faces in their license photos could have their pictures taken in private by another woman.
Dolan said the issue at stake was security, not religion.
“I don’t think any particular religion, I think terrorists,” Dolan said.
The Senate bill faces a final vote before continuing to the House.
A House transportation bill being considered would require driver’s licenses to display unobstructed facial photographs for all applicants, regardless of religious affiliation.