May 29, 2003
Precedent: Nun

Eugene Volokh (5/28, 10:05 AM) and others have been blogging about the Muslim woman in Florida who wants to keep her driver's license, but doesn't want to have her picture taken with more than her eyes showing. Volokh adduces a relevant legal decision from the 1980s. There may be more such cases further back.

It's been more than thirty years, and I don't recall whether I read this or heard about it in Catholic school -- most likely the latter --, but I believe there were similar problems when nuns started applying for driver's licenses. I imagine they were slower to take up driving than most professions, but by the '40s or '50s at the latest cars had become necessary to much of the work nuns do. Of course, up until the '60s, nuns covered their hair entirely, and some wore quite astonishly complex headdresses. The problem with getting driver's licenses was not so much identification, though listing hair color on a license doesn't help much when the hair is never shown in public. The problem was peripheral vision: some of the more elaborate headdresses left only a very narrow field of vision, much too narrow for safe driving. I don't know whether there were lawsuits or the issue was handled administratively, but as I recall the story, some orders of nuns were forced to modify their habits, or agree to remove parts of them while driving, before they were allowed to get licenses.

Perhaps someone with access to legal databases could do a search on 'nun + license + habit' or something like that? Or perhaps someone at the old nuns' home would remember how the issue was handled, since it may not have gone to court.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at May 29, 2003 12:45 AM

Their peripheral vision seemed to be OK as far as catching us goofing around.

Posted by: steevil on May 29, 2003 11:09 PM

I am 100% with you, although I don't know anything about the nuns' experience.

The important issue here isn't the ID, but the inability to drive safely, even on a bright and sunny day.

I don't care who hit me once I'm dead.

If some lady wants to go around with 90% of her face covered, be my guest But if that lady asks for permission to guide a potentially deadly, rapidly moving object on busy streets and around pedestrians, the answer has to be -- no!

I'll definitely check back to see if someone else knows morw about this.

Posted by: jerseycityjoan on June 4, 2003 10:45 AM