JEFFERSON CITY - Women would be prohibited from wearing veils for Missouri driver's license photographs under a measure approved by the state Senate Wednesday.
The bill would require all Missouri driver's license applicants to have their photograph taken. Currently applicants may abstain for religious reasons.
Applicants could receive driver's licenses without a photograph if the photograph is kept on file with the Department of Revenue. The image would also be placed in a database for law enforcement officials.
"The key is for the government to have a photo of everyone," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jon Dolan, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the bill.
Requiring unobstructed photos on driver's licenses gained national attention last year when a Florida judge ruled the right to free exercise of religion would not be hampered by requiring a full-face photograph on a driver's license.
This decision came after Sultanna Freeman sued the state of Florida for revoking her driver's license after refusing to be photographed without a veil.
Dolan cited identity theft and homeland security as the primary motivators behind the bill.
"We need to be sharper about our homeland security and idenitification procedures if we expect to play in the millenium," Dolan said.
Under the new bill, applicants who wish to have their photograph omitted must present a form that verifies the exemption is required by their religious affliliation. They also must have been a U.S. citizen for a minimum of five years and a resident of Missouri for one year, unless they have a valid driver's license from another state.
Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, voiced concerns for the religious rights of the Amish Mennonite community. Some members of the Mennonite community object to having their photograph taken on religious grounds.
"They're very modest people and they believe the image is boastful," Cauthorn said.
Applicants who qualify for a religious exemption can go to various locations around the state where they can have their photograph taken discreetly.
Concerns were also raised about the religious rights of Muslims. Under the bill, Muslim women who do not wish to show their face in their license photo could have their picture taken in private by another woman.
"I am saddened that we have come to this point," said a Columbia Muslim on the condition of anonymity. "However, I think it's a very positive step forward that the legislature has allowed us some accomodation."
Dolan said the issue at stake was security, not religion.
"I don't think any particular religion, I think terrorists," Dolan said.
The Senate bill faces a final vote before continuing to the House.
A House transportation bill being considered would require driver's licenses to display unobstructed facial photographs for all applicants, regardless of religious affiliation.