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Beach v. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

May 16, 2017

KAYE BEACH, Plaintiff/Appellant,
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, MICHAEL THOMPSON, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, RICKY G. ADAMS, in his official capacity as Assistant Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Defendants/Appellees.


         ¶0 Appellant objected to the requirement to have a high-resolution facial photograph taken for renewal of her Oklahoma drivers license; claiming the high-resolution photograph, required by statute to be maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, violates her religious beliefs, pursuant to the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, 51 O.S.2011, §§ 251-258. The District Court of Cleveland County granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants/Appellees. The Court of Civil Appeals, Division IV, reversed the district court, and we granted Appellees' petition for certiorari.


          Sherry Doyle, Edmond, Oklahoma, for Appellant,

          Mithun S. Mansinghani, Deputy Solicitor General, and Kevin L. McClure, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, Litigation Section, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Appellees.


          WATT, J.

         ¶1 This Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Appellant, Kaye Beach, sufficiently established that her "religiously motivated practice has been substantially burdened, " because she was required to submit to a high-resolution facial photograph to renew her drivers license, despite her belief that doing so violated her religion. The Court of Civil Appeals held in her favor. We reverse the Court of Civil Appeals and affirm the district court's ruling.


         ¶2 Since 2001, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (Department) has been required to maintain a system, for limited use, for storing drivers license photographs conforming with industry standards for interoperability. [1] Industry standards require a digital high-resolution facial photograph (biometric photo) that is suitable for use with facial recognition software. Department has also been required since 2001, to implement a system to store digital versions of fingerprints for limited usage. [2]

         ¶3 In September 2003, Department started using its current system, collecting both fingerprints and biometric photos, to issue and renew drivers licenses. The current system does not allow Department to process an application for a drivers license without a computerized digital facial image or fingerprint. Department does not share any of the information from fingerprints or photographs outside of the statutorily-authorized purposes. [3] The only outside access to the database is by the company who provides maintenance support for the system, MorphoTrust USA, [4] and IT professionals employed by the State of Oklahoma.

         ¶4 It is undisputed that Appellant has renewed her drivers license at least two to three times under the new system. Appellant states she was first aware of changes to the system in 2004, when she was required to submit a fingerprint for a renewal. Appellant first learned of the use of facial recognition software with the biometric photo in 2007 or 2008 and first formed her belief that it was offensive to her religiously "towards the end of 2009, 2010."

         ¶5 On March 8, 2011, Appellant attempted to apply to renew her drivers license at Fuson Tag Agency in Norman, Oklahoma. The tag agent informed Appellant that they were required by law [5] to take a biometric photo of her and Appellant could not apply for or obtain a renewal without submitting to the biometric photo and a fingerprint scan. Appellant requested an accommodation based on her religious views and was denied. [6]

         ¶6 On September 21, 2011, Appellant filed suit in Cleveland County District Court seeking an accommodation for her religious beliefs under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (ORFA), 51 O.S.2011, §§ 251-258, and Article 2, Section 30 of the Oklahoma Constitution. [7] On June 19, 2013, Appellant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on her ORFA claim. On April 1, 2014, Appellees filed a response to Appellant's motion for partial summary judgment and a counter-motion for summary judgment.

         ¶7 Appellant contends that her sincerely held religious beliefs forbid her from participating in a global-numbering identification system, using the number of man, and eternally condemn her for participating in any such system. [8] Appellant believes that the biometric photo and fingerprint that Department requires for renewal of a license is the enrollment process for the identification system that is forbidden in the Bible. [9] Appellant contends that Department's system takes measurements off facial points, from the biometric photo, to determine a number that is specific to her, [10] for use with facial recognition technology; Appellant believes the resulting number is the "number of a man" referred to in Revelation 13:16-18 thus Appellant objects to the measurements of her body being used to identify her. Appellant states that the government intends to use the biometric photo to tie our bodies to our ability to buy and sell in order to permit or deny access to goods, services, places, and things needed to live everyday.

         ¶8 Appellant contends she is forbidden by her sincerely held religious beliefs from allowing a biometric photo, compliant with international standards for formatting, to be taken and placed into a database even potentially accessible by international entities or shared with other entities and jurisdictions. Appellant states that the crux of the issue is the global information sharing; noting that the industry standards used by Department are compliant with international standards and the database is maintained by a subsidiary of an international company, on behalf of Department.

         ¶9 Appellant detailed the substantial burden on her religious exercise by noting issues she has faced without having a valid drivers license. Appellant has been ticketed for driving without a license. Appellant is sometimes unable to complete debit card transactions, has been unable to book a hotel room, rent a private company's postal box, pick up her own prescriptions, and a variety of other inconveniences because of being unable to show a valid drivers license when asked for identification. Finally, Appellant notes that she is unlikely to find a job in the future due to requirements on employers to verify identification.

         ¶10 On June 17, 2015, the district court denied Appellant's motion for partial summary judgment and granted Appellees' motion for summary judgment. On July 20, 2015, Appellant appealed from summary judgment and the case was assigned to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, Division IV. On April 29, 2016, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed summary judgment finding that Appellant had met her initial burden and the burden was now on Appellees. [11] On May 19, 2016, Appellees petitioned for certiorari, asking this Court to resolve what constitutes substantial burden under ORFA. [12] This Court granted certiorari.


         ¶11 We review a summary judgment under a de novo standard as it presents a question of law. Pickens v. Tulsa Metro. Ministry, 1997 OK 152, ¶ 7, 951 P.2d 1079, 1082. Summary judgment shall be affirmed if there is no dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 12 O.S.2011, § 2056 (C), Horton v. Hamilton, 2015 OK 6, ¶ 8, 345 P.3d 357, 360. The party moving for summary judgment must propose undisputed material facts and demonstrate, with reference to proper authority, why summary judgment should be granted. Howell v. Texaco, 2004 OK 92, ¶ 15, 112 P.3d 1154. All inferences and conclusions drawn from the evidentiary materials must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Pickens, 1997 OK 152, ¶ 7, 951 P.2d at 1082.


         ¶12 In 2000, the Oklahoma Legislature enacted the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (ORFA). [13] ORFA mandates that no governmental entity shall substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. 51 O.S.2011, § 253. ORFA defines exercise of religion as "the exercise of religion under Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma, [ [14] ORFA], and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States." [15] 51 O.S.2011, § 252 (2).


         ¶13 This Court has not previously interpreted who bears the burden of proof under ORFA [16] and ORFA itself is silent as to the assignment of the burden of proof of the party seeking relief under the Act. However, Title 51, Section 252 provides guidance on the burden of proof by defining demonstrate ...

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