A man in Oregon who goes by the name Bishop waged a nine-month court battle to win the right to wear his fox hat in his driver's license photo, citing his freedom to practice the Seven Drums religion. Screenshot: WPXI-TV
SALEM, Ore., March 14 (UPI) -- An Oregon man whose "silly fox hat" led to his driver's license photo being rejected has won a nine-month legal battle, citing his American Indian religion.
The man, who goes by the name Bishop, said he wears his fox hat wherever he goes as part of his religion, and he was allowed to wear the hat while having his picture taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
"I'm a practitioner of the Seven Drums religion. It's one of the Nez Perce religions where we all have an animal totem," Bishop told KATU-TV.
He said the fox is his totem, so he wears the hat every day as a symbol of the spirit.
Bishop said there was no problem with his driver's license renewal until it went through processing at the DMV's state office.
"Then, down at the state office where all the IDs go through review, a gentleman saw my ID and thought I was just wearing some silly hat," Bishop said.
Bishop appealed the decision in court, leading to a nine-month court battle.
"Religious freedom is one of the foundational principles of the United States. It's one of the things that makes our country the greatest country on the earth," said Bishop's lawyer, Bradley Steinman.
A judge sided with Bishop, and he was issued a new driver's license with the fox hat visible in the photo.
"It shouldn't matter if you wear a yarmulke or a hijab or, 'a silly fox hat,' as the man at the DMV wants to call it," Bishop said.
DMV spokesman David House said the processing office was following protocol when it initially rejected the photo.
"So, for our facial recognition software to work, we need people to remove any hat or facial gear that obscures their face," House said.
The spokesman said the case is the first he knows of involving the specific religion cited by Bishop.
The wearing of unusual religious headgear in ID photos has been a hot-button issue in recent years, with a Texas student becoming the first to wear a colander on his head in the photo on an ID issued in 2013. The pasta strainer headgear is a symbol of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a tongue-in-cheek religion advocating the separation of church and state.