Clinic Wins Establishment Clause Showdown

After two years of litigation and the combined effort of successive student teams, the Religious Liberty Clinic recently secured a photo-less driver’s license for a client in Illinois who objects to having her picture taken for religious reasons. Illinois is among the dozen or so states that allow photo-less driver’s licenses to those with religious objections to personal photographs. But Illinois officials had refused to issue such a license to the Clinic’s client, discounting her sincere religious belief on the matter because it is not part of a larger group’s religious tenets, like certain Muslim communities or the Mennonites whose beliefs gave rise to the state-law provision decades ago. The Clinic’s client had instead come to her belief against photographs on her own, based on years of independent home study of the Second Commandment prohibition on graven images.

The Clinic challenged the state’s action under the Establishment Clause, arguing that the exclusion of independent religious believers from the Illinois regulation unconstitutionally favored religious believers from established faiths. After presenting argument in the Illinois Appellate Court last spring, the Clinic’s students finally secured the license (pictured below) for their client. As the United States Supreme Court made clear in its recent unanimous ruling in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853 (2015) – a case where the Clinic also filed an amicus brief – religious liberty extends to conventional and “idiosyncratic” believers alike.