University of Idaho student Rebecca Beesley didn’t lose hope when she was turned away at the Moscow Department of Motor Vehicles for wanting to wear her religious head covering in her driver’s license photo.
Beesley, a 44-year-old woman and devout Messianic Jew, said Idaho requiring documentation from her religious leader to keep the head covering on for an identification photo made her feel discriminated against.
“I would like the sentence that requires the written proof to be taken out,” Beesley said. “I have no problem with a statement being put in about the face needing to be visible because of facial recognition, but I want to see the required proof out. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
ASUI President Max Cowan authored a resolution to ask the Idaho legislature to ease restrictions on religious head coverings. Followed by Beesley’s testimony and a half hour of debate, the resolution passed 8-2 at last week’s senate meeting.
Beesley, accompanied by her family, shared her story at the meeting’s open forum with the hope of persuading the senators to vote in favor of the resolution. She said she has worn her head covering or ‘kippah’ for years and it symbolizes her devotion to her husband and to God.
“It’s like a huge wedding ring, you could say,” Beesley said. “But what its meaning is, is you’re saving your sexuality for your mate alone and you don’t walk into a marriage thinking it could be an easy divorce. It also means no matter what, you are under God’s protection.”
Several senators were going to vote against the resolution, originally, but said Beesley’s story changed their vote.
“Initially, I wasn’t planning on voting in favor of this resolution,” Sen. Nathan Fisher said. “I was of the mindset, that if an individual is involved enough within a church or religion, obtaining a letter of verification should and would not be overly difficult.”
Fisher said Beesley’s testimony was enough to change his opinion.
“She made some excellent points about the necessity of facial recognition more than anything, and the examples given by her and President Cowan, such as individuals with wigs and dyed hair, proved to be particularly persuasive,” Fisher said.
A ‘friendly amendment’ was added to the resolution at the meeting to affirm the only head coverings ASUI supports being worn in DMV photos are those that “do not obscure or shadow the face.”
Two senators voted against the resolution — Sen. Bruno Bennett and Sen. Katharine Wongmankitkan.
Bennett said he voted against the resolution, because he felt the issue was out of ASUI’s scope.
“I do want it to be known that I’m not against the cause that the resolution is fighting for,” Bennett said. “I just don’t believe it is the duty of senators from the University of Idaho — a higher education institution — to push for DMV laws.”
During the debate on the issue, Sen. Grady Hepworth read the first statement in the ASUI constitution that declares ASUI’s duty to represent students at the university, city and state level — in an effort to persuade student senators to represent Beesley in the state of Idaho.
“I’m glad the senators could see where Idaho needs to catch up,” Beesley said. “Idaho is a conservative state — I don’t have any problem with that — but when you are required to give documentation of your faith, I think that has gone too far.”
Sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Vivian Gonzalez said she was happy to see the resolution pass. She said she recognizes that although the senators didn’t think it was important initially, most are very passionate about it now.
Cowan said the resolution will be sent to the state legislature and ASUI will continue to represent Beesley throughout the process.
“We have an incredible opportunity to support a student in her concerns,” Cowan said. “The next steps for this resolution is that it will be sent along to the state legislature and we will hire a lobbyist this fall who will go down in the spring to the state legislature to advocate for students, and the lobbyist this year will have time on their hands to address issues other than tuition and funding, such as this.”
Beesley said she understands the resolution may not help her current situation with the DMV. Instead, she said she hopes to fight for the cause because the end result could benefit Idaho residents for years to come.
“It may not do anything for me for this license,” Beesley said. “But there are others behind me — no matter the religion — who should be able to say they wear a head scarf for religious reasons and have it be enough.”
Amber Emery can be reached at email@example.com