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Court Hears Nebraska Case on Driver’s Licenses

January 7, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Monday examined whether it is a violation of religious freedom to require a driver’s license photograph for someone who believes the Bible forbids such a ″graven image.″

The court, expected to announce a decision in the Nebraska case by July, was told that allowing an exception on religious grounds to the photograph requirement could undermine law enforcement efforts that rely on drivers’ licenses for instant and accurate identification.

Such an exception would lead to ″exemption on demand″ from the photograph requirement, said Ruth Anne Galter, an assistant state attorney general.

Ms. Galter urged the court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that exempted Frances J. Quaring from having her photograph on her driver’s license.

Mrs. Quaring, who runs a thousand-acre farm with her husband in central Nebraska, contends that the photograph requirement violates the Second Commandment that forbids ″any graven image or any likeness.″

Mrs. Quaring says she strictly adheres to the Old Testament rule. For example, she forbids any photographs or television set in her home, does not allow home decorations depicting flowers or animals, and even removes or blacks out pictures on food package labels.

Her lawyer, Thomas C. Lansworth of Des Moines, Iowa, told the justices Monday that ″driving is essential″ for Mrs. Quaring in accomplishing her farming chores.

He also noted that Nebraska officials allow exceptions to the photograph requirement for non-religious reasons, such as out-of-state drivers and motorists with learners’ permits.

At least 46 states, including Nebraska, require photographs on drivers’ licenses.

Ms. Galter said the requirement is important to police officers when they stop motorists and ask for identification.

If Mrs. Quaring is permitted to drive without a photo on her license, there will be many others claiming their religious beliefs forbid photographs, Ms. Galter said.

″We submit the state has not interfered with Mrs. Quaring’s practice of religion,″ she added. Mrs. Quaring’s belief is based on her personal views, not on any generally accepted Judeo-Christian principle, Ms. Galter said.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Mrs. Quaring last year. It said that although her beliefs are ″unusual in the 20th Century″ they are based on religion and therefore may not be overidden by the state without compelling reasons.

The photograph requirement gives Mrs. Quaring ″the choice of following an important precept of her religion or foregoing the important privilege of driving a car,″ the appeals court said.

During Monday’s arguments, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, ″It’s really Mrs. Quaring’s free exercise of religion that is burdened, not her right to drive.″

Justice John Paul Stevens said it should be ″singularly easy″ to determine whether such an unusual belief is sincere or a ruse to avoid having one’s photograph on a license.

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