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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Florida Muslim Woman Sues for Right to Wear Veil in License Photo

Aired May 27, 2003 - 20:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: People of all different nationalities, religions live in the United States, and of course there are bound to be culture clashes. But does the war on terrorism mean the status quo always wins?
Down in Florida, right now, a woman thinks the state of Florida is trying to force her to carry a driver's license that violates her religious beliefs. As Susan Candiotti reports now, the woman says it is a matter of religious freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an Orlando courtroom, Sultaana Freeman is suing the state of Florida in a case all about, her attorneys, say religious freedom.

HOWARD MARKS, ACLU ATTORNEY: I don't think there is any mistake about that. It's about whether or not this country -- we're going to allow the religious diversity that we have for many years.

CANDIOTTI: Freeman wants the right to hold a Florida driver's license, showing only her eyes beneath a veil called a nicaab (ph). A Muslim-American advocacy group says her belief is not mandated in Islam, but it supports her position.

ALTAF ALI, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: She sincerely feel thus this is something that is going to advance her piety and her sense of modesty.

CANDIOTTI: Freeman used to hold a Florida license wearing her veil, that's what you see here. But after the September 11 attacks, Florida said she'd have to show her entire face. Florida's reason, safety and security. Beside, authorities add, driving is a privilege, not a right.

JASON VAIL, ASSISTANT FLORIDA ATTY. GEN.: There's a clear law enforcement purpose for it.

CANDIOTTI: The ACLU is representing Freeman in her suit against Florida.

HOWARD SIMON, ACLU: How is it going to make us any safer to prevent this woman from driving her kids to the doctor or to go grocery shopping without a license by requiring her to take off her veil?

CANDIOTTI: When Freeman failed to renew her license with a full facial photo Florida revoked her full driving privileges.

SULTAANA FREEMAN, PLAINTIFF: It's been a great deal of stress, it's totally changed my life and I feel like a prisoner in my home a lot of the time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now other states including Illinois, Idaho and Vermont allow waivers on requiring driver's license's photos on religious grounds. In Florida, photographs are not required for temporary driver's permits.

Now for other guidance we checked with some other countries, countries where women wear sometimes veils for religious reasons. And in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain women must show their full face in driver's license photos -- Anderson.

COOPER: Susan Candiotti, thanks very much from Miami tonight.

We thought that we'd talk more about this issue. Is it an issue of religious freedom or an issue of national security? Joining us now Florida attorney general Charlie Crist, from CNN center in Atlanta. And in Orlando, Howard Marks the American Civil Liberties Union attorney you saw in Susan Candiotti's report. Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

Attorney General Crist, let me start off with you. Basically this woman, Sultaana Freeman, and her attorney, Howard Marks, says this is an issue of religious freedom, that it violates her religious beliefs to have to show her face in a photo. Your thoughts?

CHARLIE CRIST, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We want to be respectful of everyone's religious beliefs and everyone's religious freedom. We think it's important that you have to do a balancing test here. There's a natural tension that exists between the issues of safety and security versus individual liberties, if you will. And so that's what we're balancing with this particular case.

We think that it's very important, particularly post-9/11 to err on the side of greater safety and security for our citizens to ensure the integrity of the identification, that in fact it is who it purports to be when you present that photo identification.

COOPER: Howard Marks, do you see the security issue here at all?

MARKS: I see an issue, but this is not a license in the state of Florida to drive, it's not a national ID card, it was never intended to be a national ID card. All it's intended to do is show that my client is competent to drive in the state of Florida.

When she went to the driver's license bureau in 2001 to get her license, when she came from Illinois, which she had a full face veil photo in Illinois, she provided the correct documentation required in order to get a Florida driver's license. None of that documentation required to be provided requires a photograph of her...

COOPER: But, Mr. Marks, my understanding is that state of Florida has been willing to make some concessions. They're willing to clear the office of all men so the photograph can be taken in private. Is that not enough?

MARKS: It's not enough because it does not meet the religious commands that my client believes she has. She has a sincerely held religious belief that taking a photograph of her without the veil would violate certain positions of the Quran and surah and this is her truly held religious belief. The state of Florida does not have a compelling interest to require her to unveil.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ... bring you in here. If in the past this woman has received licenses which had the veil in the photographs, have things so changed that now is very important that she not be photographed this time? That she be photographed this time?

CRIST: It's a very good question, Anderson, and I think things have changed dramatically since 9/11. They changed not only in Florida and America, they've changed around the world.

We are living in an era that's new to all of us, and I think it's important to bear in mind that when you have this tension and this balance between the safety and security of our citizen versus the individual liberties that citizens want to enjoy, it's much more prudent and smarter, I think, to err on the side of safety and security...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ... that do not require photographs in the state of Florida according to Susan Candiotti.

CRIST: The only licenses that don't require a photo are temporary licenses when somebody may be out of state. But upon their return, under Florida Statute 322, they do have to go ahead be and reissued a license with the photograph.

I had to present a photograph when I came into CNN studios today. I think it's important to understand that this is a new era that we live in. And having an opportunity to verify someone's identification is an important mechanism to ensuring more domestic tranquility that's called for in our Constitution.

COOPER: Howard marks, where is this going to go? How long is the trial expected to take? And if the result does not get on way your client wants, what's she going to do?

MARKS: The trial lasts couple of days. If it doesn't go as she's plan, we certainly will appeal the decision up to the higher courts. And we expect to prevail on this matter because we do not believe the state can meet its burden. In the state of Florida right now, there is well over a million people driving in the state of Florida that have a permit or license that does not have a photograph on them. The state in no more danger with my client driving with a photograph with her veil than any of these million people that are driving in the state of Florida.

In fact, the state of Florida allows people that are the riskiest drivers to drive with permits with no licenses. They allow foreign nationals to drive without photographic identification. They allow convicted DUI individuals to drive in the state of Florida with permits without a photograph on them. There are ways to identify individuals without photographs.

COOPER: OK.

MARKS: Photographs...

COOPER: Appreciate you joining us, Howard Marks and Attorney General Charlie Crist. Thanks very much.

CRIST: Good to be with you.

MARKS: Thank you.

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