ACLU Defends Religious Freedom Of West Virginia Minister

July 20, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, July 20, 1999

CHARLESTON, WV — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia yesterday asked a federal judge to issue a summary ruling in favor of a minister who declines, for religious reasons, to have his photograph taken for a drivers’ license.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Rev. Benjamin David Daniel Cyrus of Garrardstown in December in federal court in Charleston after the state refused to issue him a drivers’ license without a photograph.

Rev. Cyrus, a minister in The Church of the Firstborn at New Jerusalem, objects to picture taking as a matter of faith. His religious beliefs prohibit the use of “graven images.”

The ACLU contends the state failed to show why Rev. Cyrus should not be granted an exception to the photograph requirement. In other states, as well as in other West Virginia situations, citizens have not been required to have their picture on their operators’ licenses.

“Muslim women in West Virginia routinely can be photographed with traditional veils covering all but their eyes,” said Hilary Chiz, Executive Director for the ACLU of West Virginia. “The West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has failed to demonstrate the state’s objections to the statute requiring a photograph.”

The ACLU also said that military personnel, some military dependents, and permanent residents of the state, hold valid drivers’ licenses without photos. In addition, West Virginia drivers who have had their licenses revoked for drunk driving, and who qualify for an emergency temporary license, receive a permit without a photograph.

Rev. Cyrus, born Roger Kennard, had no trouble as a North Carolina resident when he applied for drivers’ license. There, he was issued a permit marked “Photo Not Required”

The attorney for the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is Senior Assistant Attorney General Jacquelyn Custer.

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