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Mefford v. White

June 7, 2002

KODY SKY MEFFORD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JESSE WHITE, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 00MR720 Honorable Donald M. Cadigan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough

Released for publication.

KODY SKY MEFFORD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JESSE WHITE, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 00MR720 Honorable Donald M. Cadigan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough

Plaintiff appeals the order of the circuit court of Sangamon County affirming the decision of defendant, Jesse White, Secretary of State for the State of Illinois (Secretary), to deny the driver's license application of plaintiff, Kody Sky Mefford, when plaintiff refused to provide his social security number on his application, citing his religious beliefs. Plaintiff challenged the statute and rule requiring the Secretary to request a social security number as unconstitutional for interposing a burden on his free exercise of religion. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Early in 2000, plaintiff, born May 16, 1983, applied to the Secretary for an Illinois driver's license, supplying all personal information required by section 6-106(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Vehicle Code) (625 ILCS 5/6-106(b) (West 1998)) except his social security number. Based on section 6-106(b) and an administrative rule promulgated by the Secretary (92 Ill. Adm. Code §1030.63 (Conway Greene CD-ROM March 2002)) plaintiff requested relief from the submission of his social security number based on his religious beliefs. On February 3, 2000, the director (Director) of the Driver Services Department (Department) denied plaintiff's application, determining that neither section 6-106(b) of the Vehicle Code nor the rule allows plaintiff to obtain a license without providing a social security number. The Director observed that plaintiff had not shown he was a member of a religious faith that did not permit its members to obtain social security numbers, as required by the statute and rule.

Following the denial, plaintiff sought an administrative hearing. At the April 18, 2000, hearing, the hearing officer heard testimony from plaintiff, then a full-time high school student, and from his father, Dan Mefford. Plaintiff testified that he had a social security number, but that his Christian religious beliefs forbade him from revealing it to the Secretary. The number had been obtained for him by his father several years earlier before either plaintiff or his father arrived at the specific religious beliefs that forbid the use of the social security number.

According to plaintiff, the social security number can be used as a "universal identifier" and thus become the "mark of the beast," about which the Bible's Book of Revelation warns. Plaintiff further testified that he is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, which permits its members to "seek out [their] own philosophical and religious readings in the scripture," but does not prohibit the use of social security numbers by its members. According to plaintiff, his views reflected his individual conclusion, shared with his father, that the social security number should generally not be used in areas outside of the administration of the social security system.

Based on the evidence presented, plaintiff argued that he had met the requirements of the religious exception set forth in the statute and the rule. Alternatively, plaintiff argued that to deny him a driver's license based on the statute and rule would deny his right to free exercise of religion under the United States and Illinois Constitutions.

On July 11, 2000, the hearing officer issued a recommendation setting forth his findings and conclusions. Among these conclusions, the hearing officer determined that plaintiff professed a "bona fide religion" and that his religious convictions were sincere. The hearing officer further found that plaintiff's demeanor was "polite and sincere" and that his testimony was "credible," making a similar finding as to plaintiff's father. However, the hearing officer found that plaintiff failed to satisfy the administrative rule requirements of Title 92, section 1030.63, which implements the exception to the provision of section 6-106(b) of the Vehicle Code based on religious belief. The hearing officer found that the Church of the Nazarene permits its members to obtain social security numbers and that "most, if not all" of the members of plaintiff's church have provided social security numbers on driver's license applications.

Despite his findings that plaintiff had not met the requirements of the statute and rule, the hearing officer recommended that plaintiff's request be granted. According to the hearing officer, the statute and rule violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. I), in that the requirement that plaintiff provide a social security number did not meet the "compelling state interest" test. The hearing officer recommended that the Secretary grant plaintiff's request for an exception to the social security number requirement for issuance of a license.

On September 15, 2000, the Secretary issued a final decision denying plaintiff's request for a driver's license. The Secretary declined to adopt a number of the hearing officer's findings and conclusions and his recommendation to grant plaintiff's request for an exception to the social security number requirement for licensure. Specifically, the Secretary adopted only the hearing officer's factual background and finding that plaintiff's testimony was credible. Further, the Secretary adopted only those conclusions of the officer that plaintiff professed bona fide religious beliefs and that those beliefs were sincere.

The Secretary made additional findings and conclusions, most critically, that plaintiff had not satisfied the requirements of the administrative rule implementing section 6-106(b) of the Vehicle Code. According to the Secretary, plaintiff failed to satisfy the rule because plaintiff's "religious faith [did] not prohibit its members from obtaining a social security number." Further, the Secretary concluded that "the religious belief of the petitioner is a tenet that is essential to the practice of his religion."

Next, the Secretary declined to resolve plaintiff's constitutional challenges to the statute and rule, finding that such challenges were "beyond the scope of authority of the administrative hearing." According to the Secretary, the scope of the hearing was "to determine whether the law and rules were followed based on the facts of the case." Finding that the administrative rule was a validly adopted regulation with the force of law, the Secretary found that plaintiff failed to meet the rule's requirements for a religious exemption from the requirement of providing a social security number and denied plaintiff's request.

Plaintiff then filed a complaint for administrative review of the Secretary's decision in the Sangamon County circuit court. The complaint requested a "driver's license with full driving privileges without providing a social security number on the application." Before the circuit court, plaintiff no longer argued that he had satisfied the requirements of section 6-106(b) of the Vehicle Code and the administrative rule implementing that section; rather, he argued that the application of the statute and rule denied his right to free exercise of religion under the United States and Illinois Constitutions. After the parties briefed the issue, the circuit court entered its judgment in a docket entry, finding that, "the decision of [the Secretary] is not arbitrary or capricious or against the manifest weight of the evidence and is accordingly affirmed." This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

The issue on appeal is a narrow one. Plaintiff has only argued that the statute and rule giving the Secretary the discretion to allow or refuse an applicant for a driver's license to submit his social security number is unconstitutional. Plaintiff has only argued that the application of the statute and rule violates his right to free exercise of religion under the United States and Illinois Constitutions. No issue is raised regarding plaintiff's compliance with the requirements of the statute and rule. Insofar as the statute and rule are neutral laws of general applicability that merely have the incidental effect of burdening religious exercise, ...


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