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LEAHY v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

October 17, 1986

JOHN C. LEAHY, JR., Plaintiff
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, defendant's opposition thereto, plaintiff's reply, and the entire record herein. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

 I. Findings of Fact

 Plaintiff filed this action on September 30, 1983, alleging violations of the First Amendment to the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the District of Columbia. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and money damages.

 The facts of this case are straightforward and there is no genuine issue of material fact. According to the complaint, the plaintiff applied for a District of Columbia driver's license on or about April 5, 1983. The District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, 18 D.C.M.R. § 103.2, require, inter alia, that each applicant for a driver's license provide his or her Social Security number and pass various tests, such as those for eyesight and driving ability. See Complaint, Exhibit A. Plaintiff refused to provide his Social Security number to the licensing examiner because of his religious objection to the undue use of that number. However, he did offer his passport and birth certificate as alternative means of identification. The licensing examination supervisor refused to administer the required tests to plaintiff due to his noncompliance with the regulations and he was denied a driver's license.

 Two days later, on April 7, 1983, plaintiff wrote a letter to Marion Barry, Mayor of the District of Columbia, recounting the above occurrences. The letter also contained a request that plaintiff's application for a driver's license be processed notwithstanding his failure to provide his Social Security number. Mayor Barry forwarded this letter to Thomas Downs, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. Mr. Downs responded to plaintiff's letter on May 6, 1983, and denied him permission to withhold his Social Security number in applying for a driver's license.

 Plaintiff "believes that use of his social security number for any purpose not related to the administration of his social security account would endanger his chances of being chosen for life after death." Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ("Plaintiff's Facts") para. 8. Based upon his study of the Bible, plaintiff believes that Social Security numbers may constitute "the mark of the beast" and that those who bear it will be denied life after death. He refuses "to provide his social security number for any purposes other than the withholding of social security tax" and "does not use it on income tax returns, on applications for credit, or in banking." Plaintiff's Facts para. 12.

 Plaintiff has now moved for summary judgment. He argues that the District of Columbia's denial of a driver's license based on his failure to supply his Social Security number constitutes a violation of his first amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. Additionally, plaintiff contends that the requirement is not the least restrictive alternative to promote a compelling governmental interest because the Department of Transportation already has an alternative system of identification numbers that it could have used with respect to Mr. Leahy. He claims that because he could not legally operate a motor vehicle, he suffered great loss and hardship in his business and personal life.

 Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that the requirement of 18 D.C.M.R. § 103.2 that a driver's license applicant provide his Social Security number is unconstitutional as applied to him. Furthermore, plaintiff seeks a permanent injunction against the District of Columbia preventing it from requiring him to provide his Social Security number as a condition for applying for a driver's license. He also seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $25,000, an award of court costs, including reasonable attorney's fees, and further relief as may seem just.

 Defendant also takes exception to plaintiff's assertion that a viable alternative identification number system is available to religious objectors like himself. It states that "the exception made for diplomats to the social security number disclosure requirement is not relevant to this case. Diplomats are a small, discrete group, whose identity has been certified to the defendant by their governments and by the United States Department of State." Defendant's Opposition Memo at 18. To allow plaintiff "to extend the exception beyond this discrete body would subvert the entire purpose of license permit control." Id.

 Finally, defendant contends that plaintiff's allegations of damages are not supported by the facts of the case. The specifics of plaintiff's unusual damages claim will not be discussed given the Court's decision on the motion.

 II. Conclusions of Law

 To merit protection under the free exercise clause of the first amendment, a religious claim must satisfy two basic criteria. First, the claimant's proffered belief must be sincerely held. Callahan v. Woods, 658 F.2d 679, 683 (9th Cir. 1981) (citing Theriault v. Carlson, 495 F.2d 390, 395 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1003, 42 L. Ed. 2d 279, 95 S. Ct. 323 (1974)). Second, the claim must be rooted in religious belief not in "purely secular" philosophical concerns. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215-16, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15, 92 S. Ct. 1526 (1972). A court may not inquire into the truth, validity, or reasonableness of a claimant's religious beliefs. See United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 87, 88 L. Ed. 1148, 64 S. Ct. 882 (1944).

 Defining what is a sincere religious belief can be quite difficult. "Although a religious belief requires something more than a purely secular philosophical or personal belief . . . courts have approved an expansive definition of religion." Quaring v. Peterson, 728 F.2d 1121, 1123 (8th Cir. 1984) aff'd, 472 U.S. 478, 105 S. Ct. 3492, 86 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1985) (citations omitted). See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. at 215-16 (1972); Founding Church of Scientology v. United States, 133 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 409 F.2d 1146 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 963, 24 L. Ed. 2d 427, 90 S. Ct. 434 (1969).

 The essence of plaintiff's alleged religious beliefs are as follows: Mr. Leahy "believes in God," and "believes that Christ is God's son, and that there will be a final judgment, at which time the dead will rise, and God will select a few to enjoy eternal life." Plaintiff's Facts para. 1. Plaintiff wants to be chosen for eternal life. He also believes that the Book of Revelation is a prophesy of the events that will lead up to the final judgment.

 According to plaintiff, Revelation "refers to several 'beasts,' which represent earthly powers or governments. Revelation says that the second beast will force people to accept a 'mark' or 'number.' It further states that eternal life will be denied to those who accept the 'Mark of the Beast'." Declaration of John C. Leahy, Jr. in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Leahy Declaration") at 2.

 
9. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
 
10. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of ...

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