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Sultaana Freeman and the Veil of Obfuscation

As a bleeding-heart, knee-jerk liberal, most people would expect me, I think, to take the side of the poor Muslim woman who lost her license

As a bleeding-heart, knee-jerk liberal, most people would expect me, I think, to take the side of the poor Muslim woman who lost her driver’s license because she would not remove her veil, in the name of Islam and modesty. The signs point to underdog, and I’m all about boosting the underdog. The ACLU, an organization I support and admire, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sultaana Freeman. There is currently an email missive, which incorrectly states that Florida gave in and is allowing Freeman to wear the veil on her license photo, that goes on and on about immigrants not playing by the rules, and this is God’s country, and love it or leave it, and all that crap. In other words, I should be decrying the heavy-hand of the government, and freedom of religion, and all that crap. But I’m not. It turns out that that the stupid email missive mentioned above, which claims falsely to be an editorial in a Tampa-area newspaper, is wrong on many counts. One of the main ones is the immigration status of Sultaana Freeman. She’s an American, who once went by the name of Sandra Kellar. A short while after she converted to Islam, she was arrested in Illinois on battery charges after beating a 3 year-old child in her care. In that case, she also tried to refuse the lifting of the veil on the child in the name of modesty and Islam. Underneath the veil of the child, police found bruises on her face. Her arm was also broken. The mug-shot of Sultaana was taken without the veil. Suddenly, I see no reason to side with this woman. Moreover, the sticking point in the Florida driver’s license issue is that Freeman already had her photo taken with the veil, and only, she and the ACLU claim, after 9-11 did the state have interest in persecuting Muslims. But there are two problems with this argument. The first is that the state has always said that driving is a privilege, and its rules are now that the whole face must be shown in the license. If Freeman doesn’t want to take off the veil, she is welcome not to. And she will not be granted a license. Simple. It is not religious persecution. The second point: It is not religious persecution. In Islamic countries where women can travel or drive, they do not wear their veils in their passport or driver’s license. Their whole face must be visible. There is no Islamic law that makes it immoral, or immodest, to remove the veil when identification is needed. I wanted, in my liberal, knee-jerk reaction, to think that Florida was needlessly troubling this woman. But now, my spider-sense is tingling with the possibility that Sultaana Freeman, nee Sandra Kellar, former Pentecostal preacher and child-abuser, may just be hiding something besides her modesty behind that veil.

5 replies on “Sultaana Freeman and the Veil of Obfuscation”

Bravo, to your “spider-sense” and you Sherlock Holmes like, fact finding ability. Rock on!

Dear Whatsyourname, You, yourself, have missed several facts. First, the lawsuit was filed in January of 2002, and was recently (June 6, 2003) decided by Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe in Florida state court. Judge Thorpe found, among other things, that forcing an individual to succomb to the Florida DMV’s rule is never a substantial burden on the practice of religion. And here’s the problem, with both the decision and your analysis of the situation: The Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1998. You may not realize this, but in the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court handed down several decisions which made it much easier for states and the federal government to restrict your right to practice (or not practice) religion. In response, many states passed RFRAs, attempting to restore the law to its previous state: under RFRA, a state must demonstrate that it has (1) a COMPELLING interest to burden religion, and that (2) the practice burdening the religion is the “least restrictive means” of pursuing its compelling interest. So what does that mean? First off, the law doesn’t require or allow any inquiry into the individual’s background–is it really RIGHT that, had Sultaana Freeman had a spotless past, you would be more willing to allow her to express her religious beliefs? Secondly, and this seems pretty obvious to me, but Islamic countries do not have RFRA, and are therefore not compelled to justify their actions. Sultaana Freeman does not live in Saudi Arabia–she should not have to live by its laws. Perhaps RFRA is the reason she doesn’t live in Saudi Arabia. The only laws to which Sultaana is subject, and the only ones which protect her, are the laws of the U.S. Goverment and the State of Florida. Further, driving is more than a privilege. To someone with two children, living in Orange Country, Florida, with seriously inadequate public transportation, driving becomes a near necessity. And for the last 20 years, states all over the country had found that (1) when a privilege such as driving is nearly necessary to carrying out one’s daily functions, it must be treated as a right, and (2) for the RFRA inquiry, it doesn’t matter if the you’re dealing with a privilege or a right–the only inquiry is whether there is a substantial burden to the individual’s religion. Lastly, RFRA forbids interference with the “exercise of religion,” which the state defines as “an act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the religious exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.” Thus, if Sultaana Freeman interprets Islamic law to say that she cannot unveil herself for a drivers license, it’s HER BELIEF, not others’ interpretation of Islam, that matters. If you want some real information on this case, try CourtTv.com for the real lowdown. Oh, and one more thing: when you’re using “its” as a possessive, as in “its rules,” there’s no apostrophe.

Dear Eden-Expatriate, Unlike you, I can read a by-line, so I’ll refrain from calling you Whatsyourface. You got me on the apostrophe, but the wonderful thing about HTML is that I can go in a change it, so it’ll no longer offend your sensibilities. May I suggest that a spell checker may help you in your quest for perfection? As for the rest of your charges against me, driving is a privilege, whether you think that is fair or not. The state can compel people to pose naked for their licenses if that is what the state deems necessary. Don’t want it? Don’t drive. Of course, since so much business relies on trucks and cars and people getting from one place to another quickly, if the laws were too restrictive, commerce would suffer, but, in this case, a condition to remove the veil would not be too restrictive. I point out what other countries, that are Muslim states, do as a guideline for what rules there are regarding Muslim citizens in those states. There is no central body, as there is with a pope for the Catholics, so it is the best I can come up with to show whether or not there is really a moral tenet in the Muslim religion against showing a woman’s face on a governmental license, and there is not. Just because Sultaana Freeman decides that it is part of her religion does not, in fact, make it part of her religion. Anyone, anywhere, can decide how they want to worship their religion, but where does the state draw the line? Since polygamy is illegal, no religious person in America can practice it legally, wither the religion or no. The RFRA does not establish what is or is not a burden to Muslims. The court decided, correctly, that removing the veil is not a burden to her practice. And now she must comply with the law, just as anyone else in the country must. Her belief actually doesn’t matter. If I believe that my religion compels me to not pay income taxes, because I will only render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, I’m still going to get into trouble with the law. And my decision is not swayed by Sultaana’s past. What I find interesting about it is how she is using her Muslim identity to play the legal system. I don’t believe that she is amongst the faithful. I could be wrong, and how dare I accuse this pious woman and all that, but hey, it’s a free country, despite the fact that I can’t have my face obscured on my damned driver’s license.

Eden-Expatriate, I have left this for so long, I have forgotten my original point. But I think it was this: Driver’s Licenses should require a photo of a real face. A man can have a beard, as you point out, and shave it as soon as the photo is taken, rendering it almost useless, but so what? A beard is a part of the face. A veil is not. I would not have supported Quaring, either. I do not think it is a fundamental right to obscure an official governmental document. You mention the slippery-slope of the government determining that Freeman’s religious practices should not come before security of the state. That does bother me, but you ignore the slippery-slope of the state allowing a veil. Statistically speaking, you say, we’re far more likely to come across an unveiled person, but that is just ridiculous. If we allow a veiled photo, we allow thousands of veiled photos. If I wanted discuss Christian hierarchies, I would have. My point on the Pope was in response to your argument against my point on the understood authorities on the tenets of the Muslim religion. (Around and around we go.) I am well aware of the various denominations, in Christianity and Islam. I thank you for the refresher course, but it is merely another ring around my original point. I am not a lawyer. I am a person with a blog. I have a point of view. My point of view is still that Sultaana Freeman is playing us for chumps. I believe so strongly in the separation of church and state, that I think that the state can pretty much ignore whatever the hell anyone’s religious beliefs are in its official documents. That is what makes it not discriminatory. EVERYONE HAS TO SHOW THEIR FACE IF THEY WANT THEIR LICENSE. There. Can’t drive on Friday night? Okay, don’t. Can’t buy liquor on Sunday. Okay, don’t. Gotta bow down towards the east five times a day. Okay, sure. Want a driver’s license. Yep, gotta see your face. I am not arguing law. Seriously. If I tried, I’d lose, because so much of our law is screwed up, especially the laws that are tied into Christian moral beliefs. But I’m tired of it. No religion in government, please. I don’t believe so much that the government has to bend over backwards to accommodate anyone’s beliefs as it just has to ignore them. The government does its business in this way, and if your beliefs clash, here is the door. I don’t understand why you pointed out that churches are sheltered from taxation. My render unto Caesar bit was about someone claiming that he, himself, did not have to pay taxes because the Bible told him not to. He’d get thrown in jail. (Unless your point is that if he started his own church, he could avoid paying taxes. I understand that is why L Ron Hubbard started his little game.) Listen, thank you for pointing out previous case law. Even though I am disagreeing with you, you are educating me (and the couple others who read this). I really don’t want the government to dictate anything about morals or what we can and cannot believe, but, seriously, while this did get press because it involves a Muslim, it is not an issue about Islam. The judge is using 9/11 as an excuse, and that is disgusting, but it really has nothing to do with terrorism. A photo license needs a photo. A strip with just the eyes showing is patently absurd. Florida never should have allowed it in the first place.

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