Federal Judge Orders State to Issue Driver’s License Without Photograph
DENVER (AP) _ A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the state to issue a driver’s license without a photograph on it to a member of a fundamentalist religious order that opposes photos as ″graven images.″
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jim Carrigan ended a three-year fight with the state Revenue Department’s Motor Vehicle Division for William P. Dennis, 25, of Avondale, a member of the assembly of YHWHHOSHUA.
The Pueblo-area group, with about 60 members, created its name from a reference to God in the Old Testament.
Dennis is among about 30 assembly members who have been denied licenses because they refuse to be photographed based on the Second Commandment - ″Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ...″ - and other Old Testament passages. Many have been fined for driving without permits.
The judge ruled that requiring Dennis to have a photograph on his driver’s license violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Dennis, who wore a long, flowing, green robe during the proceedings, appeared sincere in his belief, the judge said.
″The mere fact that other religions may interpret these passages differently, as referring only to images, statues or pictures worshipped in idolatry, does not render less weighty″ the assembly’s interpretation, Carrigan said.
In 1979, David Johnson, another assembly member from Pueblo County, lost an identical case before the Colorado Supreme Court.
Assistant Attorney General Tony Trumbly said the state would have to review the federal court decision before deciding whether to appeal it.
Carrigan also ordered the state to pay Dennis’ attorney fees.
Carrigan had ruled in the state’s favor in 1983, but reconsidered after the case was returned to him for additional findings by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
He said he found the case indistinguishable from a Nebraska decision upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court involving a fundamentalist Christian’s opposition to being photographed.
He also said Colorado issues several kinds of probationary licenses that bear no photographs, often for ″highest risk″ drivers, such as suspected drunk drivers, probationary licensees and learners.
David Juarez, a lawyer representing Dennis for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he hopes there is no stay of the judge’s order to issue Dennis a license within 20 days.
″Now he’ll get to drive with a license in hand,″ Juarez said.