On The Front Lines
Oklahoma Supreme Court to Decide If Mandatory Biometric Photo Requirement for Drivers' Licenses Infringes on Religious Freedom
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Oklahoma Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a woman whose religious freedom is violated by a requirement of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety that in order to acquire a driver’s license, residents must submit to a biometric photograph, which is then stored in a database managed and accessed by international organizations.
In granting review of a lower court’s ruling, Oklahoma’s highest court will determine whether Kaye Beach is entitled to a trial on her claim that the state’s biometric photo requirement violates her rights under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act. The Rutherford Institute has advocated on behalf of Beach’s request to have her religious beliefs about participating in a global numbering identification system accommodated by using a low-resolution photograph for her license.
“Whatever one’s belief systems—whether a person views a biometric ID card in the form of a driver’s license or other government-issued form of identification as a violation of one’s religious beliefs or merely the long arm of Big Brother, the outcome remains the same—ultimate control by the government,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “As Kaye Beach’s case makes clear, failing to have a biometric card can render you a non-person for all intents and purposes, with your ability to work, travel, buy, sell, access health care, and so on, jeopardized.”
In March 2011, Kaye Beach applied to renew her driver’s license with the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Upon learning that the biometric photographs used by DPS are stored in a database that is managed and accessed by international organizations, Beach, a Christian, voiced her religious objection to the practice and asked to be allowed to use a low-resolution photograph for her license. Although Beach met all other requirements for renewing her license, DPS refused her request for an accommodation of her religious beliefs, as well as her offer to submit to a low-resolution photograph for her license, insisting that the state law does not provide for alternatives or exemptions. As a result, Beach was not permitted to renew her driver’s license. Consequently, Beach has also been deprived of common benefits and services that hinge on possessing a valid driver’s license, including the ability to acquire prescription medications, use her debit card, rent a hotel room or obtain a post office box.
Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit against DPS in September 2011 over its refusal to accommodate Beach’s religious beliefs and grant her a license. Although the state previously asserted that use of biometric photographs on drivers’ licenses is required by federal law, state officials later admitted that federal law imposes no such requirement. Nonetheless, a state trial court granted summary judgment to the state in June 2015, but this judgment was reversed in early 2016. The case prompted the introduction of legislation in Oklahoma that would have granted Beach and others an exemption from the biometric photo requirement, but that legislation was rejected by a committee of the state’s Senate.