Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oklahoma: High-Res License Photo Does Not Burden Religious Beliefs

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that an applicant's religious beliefs did not trump state requirements for a photo drivers license

This Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Appellant, Kaye Beach, sufficiently established that her "religiously motivated practice has been substantially burdened," because she was required to submit to a high-resolution facial photograph to renew her drivers license, despite her belief that doing so violated her religion. The Court of Civil Appeals held in her favor. We reverse the Court of Civil Appeals and affirm the district court's ruling.

The claim

 Appellant contends that her sincerely held religious beliefs forbid her from participating in a global-numbering identification system, using the number of man, and eternally condemn her for participating in any such system. Appellant believes that the biometric photo and fingerprint that Department requires for renewal of a license is the enrollment process for the identification system that is forbidden in the Bible. Appellant contends that Department's system takes measurements off facial points, from the biometric photo, to determine a number that is specific to her,  for use with facial recognition technology; Appellant believes the resulting number is the "number of a man" referred to in Revelation 13:16-18 thus Appellant objects to the measurements of her body being used to identify her. Appellant states that the government intends to use the biometric photo to tie our bodies to our ability to buy and sell in order to permit or deny access to goods, services, places, and things needed to live everyday.

Appellant contends she is forbidden by her sincerely held religious beliefs from allowing a biometric photo, compliant with international standards for formatting, to be taken and placed into a database even potentially accessible by international entities or shared with other entities and jurisdictions. Appellant states that the crux of the issue is the global information sharing; noting that the industry standards used by Department are compliant with international standards and the database is maintained by a subsidiary of an international company, on behalf of Department.

Appellant detailed the substantial burden on her religious exercise by noting issues she has faced without having a valid drivers license. Appellant has been ticketed for driving without a license. Appellant is sometimes unable to complete debit card transactions, has been unable to book a hotel room, rent a private company's postal box, pick up her own prescriptions, and a variety of other inconveniences because of being unable to show a valid drivers license when asked for identification. Finally, Appellant notes that she is unlikely to find a job in the future due to requirements on employers to verify identification.


It is undisputed that Appellant has submitted biometric photos and fingerprints to Department at least two to three times under Department's current system such that Appellant is already in Department's system. Even if Appellant adduced evidence to show that Department's biometric photo requirements are a substantial burden on Appellant's religious exercise of abstaining from participation in a global-numbering identification system, a court could still not grant Appellant effective relief because Appellant is already "enrolled" in the system with her biometric photo and fingerprints in Department's database. Because Department already has Appellant's biometric photo and fingerprints in its system, the matter presented is moot. There are no facts present here to allow application of an exception to this jurisdictional bar. As such, we need not address the other related issues brought before this Court.

(Mike Frisch)


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