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Explore the balance between national security and civil liberties

May 29, 2003
Web posted at: 2:43 AM EDT (0643 GMT)

Overview: In refusing to remove her veil for her driver's license photograph, a woman in Florida has stirred a controversy that has civil rights advocates and state officials butting heads. Though Sultaana Freeman says her religious beliefs require her to wear the veil in public, the state of Florida has refused to issue her a driver's license without a photograph of her entire face.

After students read "Woman sues Florida over driverís license dispute" present the following:

1. Who is Sultaana Freeman? Why is she suing the state of Florida? On what grounds is she claiming her right to wear her veil (called a niqab) in her driver's license photo? According to a Muslim-American advocacy group, does Islam mandate that Ms. Freeman wear a veil? Why does she insist she must wear it? How did the events of September 11, 2001 alter the rules for obtaining a driver's license in Florida? What is Florida's reason for requiring applicants to show their entire face? Who is representing Ms. Freeman in her lawsuit? What is a waiver? Which other states allow waivers on driver's license photos on religious grounds? Who will decide the final verdict?

2. Do you think Sultaana Freeman should be able to wear her veil in her driver's license photo? Why or why not? Can you think of any other laws that have been challenged on the basis of religious freedom? Do you think religious freedom should be a valid reason for not having to adhere to state or national law? Why or why not? What is your interpretation of religious freedom? What questions do you think the judge will need to ask herself when making her final decision? What do you think might be the deciding factor in this case? What are the possible larger implications for the decision in this case if it is decided in favor of the plaintiff, Ms. Freeman, or the defendant, the state of Florida? In general, do you think the events of September 11, 2001 have affected the balance between national security and American civil liberties? Explain.

3. Refer students to the Web sites below to view documents and background information related to this case. Have student groups review and discuss the different perspectives on the issues related to the case. Then, working as a class, direct students to list the key points for the plaintiff's case, the key points for the defendant's case and the key questions that are being addressed in the case. Based on their brief analysis of the terms of the case, each student should write a brief statement of how he/she thinks the verdict will read. The students' verdicts should offer justifications for their decisions. When the court case is over, have students compare their verdicts with the actual verdict. Hold a class discussion on the outcome of the trial and its potential implications for the balance between American civil liberties and national security.

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