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Weird title for a religious blog, right? Not as weird as you might think, though it is weird in its own way. Hutterites take the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol”, in a very strict and literal sense. They believe that having their photograph taken for government-issued id, in this case a driver’s license, violates this commandment.

In 2003, the province of Alberta introduced a new driver’s license which is as secure as a passport. Except when you get a change-of-address slip issued, which is a piece of paper that a two-year-old can forge. In fact, Albeta driver’s licenses are actually issued by the Canadian Passport Office. As you can imagine, identification theft is an issue, and a photo on the license became mandatory. Till the change in rules, Hutterites were not required to have their photo on the license, and there were some 400 of these licenses granted.

Hutterites took the matter to court on a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge. Freedom of Religion is enshrined in the Canadian constitution within the Charter, and the Hutterites felt that their rights were being infringed. Indeed, I think they were. But freedom of religion is not absolute, and there certainly are competing interests here. The province of Alberta argued that identity theft ws the issue, and I think they could have gone further than that and cited national security issues. The province lost on appeal to the Alberta appelate court, but in a 4-3 split decision, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the province.

At this point it is unclear what action will be taken by the Hutterites, whether they will comply or refuse to comply with the ruling. The ruling itself is now part of Canadian case law, so any of the other provinces that currently issue these special photo-less licenses can now require that a photo.

Not sure what to say here. Does security override religious freedoms in this case? What say you good people?


  1. I wrote here about how we need to question the role of government and how it divides us. But the roads issue is tough. But since the government runs the roads and is responsible for their safety, it is better (I think) that they make pictures mandatory. Humans are safer animals when they are known. Cooperation only works when the cheaters are easily recognized. Thinking about humans as isolated, unconnected entities is a mistake.

  2. oooops, here is my short post.

    PS – what does “permalink” mean and who should click that?

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