Dukh-i-zhiznik Exemption =
No Photo on
Driver's License? NOT!
In 1977 Benjamin Stackler, requested no photo on his
California driver's license due to his fundamentalist
religious belief. He was denied. His research found
the case of John Shubin who won a similar case in
1964, which established a case
What is very confusing in the public record is that
Shubin erroneously testified in court that his
religion was "Molokan," while Shubin's secret Dukh-i-zhiznik faith
opposes the Molokan
faith. Such dis-information creates a false
impression of the actual Molokan faith. See Taxonomy
of 3 Spiirtual Christian Groups: Molokane, Pryguny
Stackler, who lived in Sacramento, looked for
Molokans and soon found and attended the Molokan
prayer hall in San Francisco a few times. Fortunately
for him these were authentic Molokans who did not shun
him. He consulted with Molokan elders and historian Ethel
Dunn in Berkeley (one of the few world experts on
Russian sectarians at that time), formed his own
congregation (of one person?), and even acquired a kosovorotka
(Russian men's peasant shirt). With new information,
Stackler appealed his case in 1980 at which Dunn
testified, and won in 1984 — Stackler
Motor Vehicles (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 240, 245, 164
Had Stackler lived in Southern California, he would
not find authentic Molokane,
but would have approached Dukh-i-zhizniki
camouflaged as Molokans. The most aggressive and
would have chased him away from their
meetings, and some probably accusing him of being a
government spy. His case would probably had ended,
unless he figured out that the real Molokane in San
Francisco are a different faith, open to outsiders.
Then he would have to travel 400 miles. He also may
have figured out that it was a Dukh-i-zhiznik who
opposed government photos, not Molokane, and
dropped his case because Dukh-i-zhizniki would probably not
have helped him. So he was lucky to have been in
Northern California and not know the difference
between these different faiths.
Stackler never had contact with Dukh-i-zhizniki
in Southern California, who falsely claim that their
faith is Molokan,
and where some falsely believed that the government
honored their secret faith with a "special" photo
logic is ironic because they want the label "Molokan"
while opposing the Molokan
faith. They want to hide their faith from the
government under a false label, yet brag about it in
court and the press. Most ironic is that all American
photos and display many photos of themselves, even on
the Internet. The argument about a driver's license
photo was a single isolated incident won by a very
zealous man (Shubin) during the mid-1960s when the
U.S. was in a turmoil and transition over human and
civil rights, the Vietnam war was openly protested,
and the most zealous and paranoid Dukh-i-zhizniki
were preparing and exodus to Australia to flee a
Shubin, and the few who followed his example of
what can be called a "protest by photo," contrasted
with the vast majority who shared their secret faith.
In fact, most Maksimisty
who migrated to the US in the early 1900s had
passports with photos. A few fled Russia with no
official papers, and some of those were not allowed
into the US
but were able to get into Mexico.
In contrast with their spiritual brothers who believed
in prophesies to go South, all American Dukh-i-zhizniki who
migrated to Australia or traveled abroad, had photos
on government passports. In contrast with Russian Dukh-i-zhizniki, none in the Former
Soviet Union ever protested government photos on their
The history of opposition by Russian sectarians to
icons and the evolution of this trait should be noted,
particularly the use of a blank (white) icon which
some use to represent the Holy Spirit. Not mentioned
in these news reports or court cases is a prophesy in
Los Angeles in the early 1900s which ordered all
believers to burn their photos. Though hundreds of
family photos were destroyed in backyard incinerators,
many were not. The symbolism in Dukh-i-zhiznik oral
that any image, or icon, is evil often reappears, as
it did again with Shubin who became obsessed with his
photo. The opposite of an image — no image at all — a
white handkerchief is used often by and familiar to
handkerchiefs are often placed "by the Spirit" on
walls in prayer halls and homes. White towels are also
hung on walls. A few congregations of Pryguny in the
Former Soviet Union place a white cloth on their
prayer rug, or in place of a decorated prayer rug on
the floor during service. Dukh-i-zhizniki
only use the white cloth symbol on walls and
for selective anointment by the Holy Spirit.
Again, two opposing Russian sectarian faiths in
California claim the label "Molokan", which is very
confusing. One faith is authentic Molokan, the
other is not. Only a few members of the Dukh-i-zhiznik faith
ever requested exception of their photos on a
California driver's license, after Shubin set an
his "protest by photo" zealotry.
Before the Homeland
of 2002, 15 states allowed exemptions for photos
on drivers licenses. In June 2003, the DMV denied the
exception to Dukh-i-zhiznik
Jack Valov who thought it was a special Dukh-i-zhiznik "
exception." He appealed the ruling with attorney Paul
Martin Orloff. In September 2005 his appeal was
denied, and he learned that American Dukh-i-zhizniki are
not the only religion denied. A few Muslims also
believed their religion had the same special
Read the appeal ruling Valov
Motor Vehicles and news:
historians George Mohoff and Jack Valov counted less
than 10 California Dukh-i-zhizniki
who used this exemption in 2005, out of less
than 2000 who may attend a religious meeting during a
year. The DMV reports a little less than 20 photo
exemption requests from all faiths in California,
therefore about half were Dukh-i-zhizniki.
Shubin was a Dukh-i-zhiznik-Maksimist, not a
Labeling this the "Molokan exception"
in the press misrepresents the Molokane who do
not ask for the photo exception nor ever considered
government photos to be taboo.
The Stackler case impacted California case law and
has been cited in at least 10 subsequent pleadings and
legal documents regarding privacy, reach of law
and proposed law.
- 1989 Nov 17 — Wilkinson
Corp. — whether an individual's constitutional
right of privacy has been violated depends first on
a determination whether that individual had a
personal and objectively reasonable expectation of
privacy which was infringed
- 1991 May 6 — United
v. City of LA — publication of facial
photographs on driver's licenses invades no
reasonable expectation of privacy
- 1997 Jun 1 — Loder
Glendale — requirement that driver’s license
contain photograph of licensee does not “implicate
any of the excesses at which the constitutional
provision protecting the right of privacy is
- 1998 Mar 13 — Opinion,
California Attorney General — Administrative
officials have only those powers that have been
expressly conferred, that are necessary for the due
and efficient administration of powers expressly
granted, or that may fairly be implied from the
statute or regulation granting the powers
- 2000 Feb 2 — Orange
interpretations — finding of implied
powers occurs only when "reasonably necessary" to
carry out the powers expressly granted
- 2001 Nov 2 — County
v. Deputy Sheriffs' Assn. — if a public
officer is charged by statute with carrying out a
duty, he or she has the additional powers that may
be fairly implied from the statute to accomplish the
task expressly granted.
- 2001 Dec 21 —
Analysis of Impact of A.B. 1349 on Right to
Privacy — no reasonable expectation of privacy
in that which is already public
- 2004 Feb 4 — Gimbrone
v. DMV — The grounds for refusing to issue a
license are the same for original licenses and
- 2005 Sep 20 — Valov
v. DMV — in light of public safety concerns
and the state’s interest in protecting its citizens’
identities, it could no longer provide him with a
religious exemption. Note that Stackler challenged
the photograph requirement on grounds other than the
First Amendment right.
- 2007 Sep 27 — Sheehan
v. SF 49ers — pat-down searches are invasion
Department of Motor
Vehicles Press Release — October 30, 2003
California Department of Motor
Media Relations Office
2415 First Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95818
SACRAMENTO — Saying the world has
changed since 9/11, the Department of Motor Vehicles
is seeking to overturn a 1984 court ruling that
allowed a California motorist on religious grounds to
obtain a driver license without his photograph on
"In the wake of 9/11," said DMV Director Steven
Gourley, "it is imperative that every California
driver license include a full face photograph of the
individual so law enforcement and security personnel
can verify the identity of the individual holding that
In 1984, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge
granted Benjamin Stackler an exemption from a state
law requiring all driver licenses and ID cards to have
a full face photograph, based on Stackler's insistence
that taking his photograph violated his free exercise
of religion. Claiming to be an elder in his own sect
of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
Molokan faith, in which some
members believe that the second commandment against
graven images forbids making pictures of individuals,
Stackler sued the DMV to require that a license be
issued to him without a photo and that it be renewed.
He had tried previously in 1980 to have the court
grant him a non-photo license on different grounds
— his right to privacy. He lost that earlier bid
in the Court of Appeals. So he refiled on freedom of
religion grounds. Superior Court Judge Ronald
Tochtermann upheld Stackler's argument and ordered the
DMV to issue him a non-photo license and to grant
Even before 9/11, the DMV had already begun
systematically reviewing its millions of photo records
for accuracy and to verify that all existing licenses
and ID cards include a photograph. Stackler's license
came up for normal renewal, and was flagged by the DMV
as it did not include a photograph. When he produced a
nearly 20 year old court order granting him a license
without a photo, the department instituted legal
action to require him to submit a photograph to renew
his license. The DMV petition was filed Wednesday
afternoon in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Gourley said the DMV is not singling out anyone based
on religious practices. He said the law requiring a
photograph applies equally to all citizens, regardless
of their religious beliefs. "It was a different world
two decades ago when that earlier court decision was
handed down," said Gourley. "That was before identity
theft became a national epidemic, threatening the
financial security of every American. And it was
before 9/11 made it absolutely imperative that anyone
boarding an airliner show a valid photo ID."
By Dan Smith — Sacramento
Bee Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief — Friday,
October 31, 2003
The requirement would not
violate religious freedom, the filing says.
Seeking to overturn a 19-year-old court decision
involving religious freedom, the California Department
of Motor Vehicles on Thursday filed legal action to
require all motorists to have photographs on their
All but 18 of the state's 22.6 million drivers have
photos on their licenses. But state officials, in a
filing in Sacramento Superior Court, contend the court
action is necessary because of "a dramatic increase in
terrorism (and) an increased reliance on
identification photographs by institutions from police
The DMV's move comes as the outgoing Davis
administration continues to weather criticism over its
approval of a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to
get driver's licenses. And it comes just months after
a Florida court ruled against a Muslim woman who
refused to remove her veil for a driver's license
The California fight began in 1980 when Davis
resident Benjamin Stackler refused to be photographed
for his license and sued, arguing his right to
privacy. He lost but returned to court claiming that
he had begun subscribing to the [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
Molokan religion, which
prohibits graven images.
In 1984, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald
Tochterman ordered the DMV to issue the photoless
license. The department, then under Gov. George
Deukmejian's administration, did not appeal.
But times have changed, DMV Director Steven Gourley
said Thursday, and the state now believes every
license must carry a picture instead of the "Valid
Without Photo" printed across the ID carried by
Stackler and several others in the state.
Gourley said he became aware that some motorists had
licenses without photographs about a year ago, but he
decided to make a stand when Stackler's license
recently came up for renewal.
Gourley said photo-less licenses "didn't make much
sense in the '80s" because of the possibility of
identity theft, but concern "has become much more
intense after 9/11. This is an important step against
terrorism. It's an important step against identity
theft and identity fraud."
DMV records show only 18 California licenses are
photo-less. And some of those drivers, according to
Gourley, may be dead, living out of state or no longer
The DMV's move, he said, is not an attempt to mute
criticism over the new law for undocumented
immigrants. "It has nothing to do with any other
issue," Gourley said.
Stackler could not be reached for comment.
But his attorney, William D. Kopper, questioned the
DMV's reopening of the case when so few Californians
have photo-less licenses. Those who do, he said, would
certainly be well-known to law enforcement.
"It's just another example of the state trying to
exert its governmental authority over someone's
personal freedoms," Kopper said.
In its legal filing, the DMV argued that requiring
photographs on licenses does not violate the free
exercise of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment
and that the U.S. Supreme Court on several occasions
since 1984 has upheld states' rights to adopt
regulations that affect religious practices.
Requiring photos, the filing states, is essential for
police to prevent crimes, identify suspects and
enhance airport security, and for banking officials to
enforce provisions of the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
In the Florida case, which is under appeal, a judge
upheld Florida officials' revocation of a driver's
license for a Muslim woman who declined to be
photographed without a veil covering her face.
In defense of the woman, the American Civil Liberties
Union has argued that courts in at least three other
states — Colorado, Indiana and Nebraska — allowed
photo-less licenses for Christians who claimed
religious freedom under the Second Commandment, which
forbids worship of graven images.
About the Writer: The Bee's Dan Smith
can be reached at (916) 321-5249 or email@example.com
By Caitlin Liu, Los
Angeles Times — November 18, 2003 — Page B2
BEHIND THE WHEEL
DMV Puts No-Photo Driver's
Licenses to the Test
The agency is challenging a court decision that
has allowed some to avoid being photographed for
For 20 years, Benjamin Stackler remained anonymous in
a way that few Californians could. By court order, he
was not required to have a photo on his driver's
But now, the Berkeley resident's refusal to have his
picture taken — on the grounds that it is barred by
his religion — has earned him notoriety within the
Department of Motor Vehicles, which is heading to
court to ensure that the state has every last one of
its 22.6 million motorists on file.
"We're just not going to issue any more driver's
licenses without photos," said DMV Director Steven
Gourley. "A driver's license is a privilege, and if
you want it, you have to play by the rules."
Stackler's attorney, Bill Kopper, counters that the
DMV is interfering with his client's freedom to
practice his faith. "People's religious rights are
being impinged upon in the name of national security.
Where is it going to stop?"
PHOTO FINISH: Marlon Aguilar has his picture taken
before taking the driver's license test at the South
Hope Street DMV office.Fewer than 20 motorists in
California, many members of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
Molokan faith, have until recently
been exempted from being photographed.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Al Seib Los Angeles Times
California is the latest battleground between
motorists and the government over the issue of
Until recently, at least 15 states — including
Washington, Indiana and Nebraska — granted driver's
licenses to motorists who refused to be photographed
on religious grounds, according to the American Civil
Liberties Union of Florida, which represented a Muslim
woman who refused to sit before a camera without her
full-face veil. But in June, a Florida judge ruled
that the woman, Sultaana Freeman, could not obtain a
driver's license unless she removed her veil for the
Stackler's case pits the state of California against
the Second Commandment, which some Christian sects
have interpreted as prohibiting any "graven image,"
such as a photo.
"It presents an interesting issue ... involving a
significant constitutionally protected right," said
professor Jesse Choper, an expert on religious freedom
at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. "A case
like this has the potential of going all the way to
the California Supreme Court."
Since 1958, California law has mandated that a valid
license bear a full-face picture of the driver,
according to the DMV. But in the 1960s, after
followers of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
Molokan faith protested that
sitting for a photo interfered with their observance
of the Second Commandment, the DMV created an
exemption for followers of the Christian sect. It was
granted if an applicant could present certification
signed by an elder in the [Dukh-i-zhiznik
church, according to the agency's policy at
Stackler first tried to avoid DMV cameras in the late
1970s by arguing that the picture would violate his
privacy rights. A judge threw out that petition.
But Stackler returned to court a few years later,
saying he was an elder in his own Molokan
In 1984, a Sacramento Superior Court judge found his
religious beliefs to be sincere and ordered the agency
to grant him a license without a photo.
But this year, DMV officials balked.
"It's a completely unsafe practice to issue driver's
licenses ... without a photograph," said Gourley, the
agency director, contending that photos deter fraud,
allow law enforcement officers to act more quickly and
reduce the risk of terrorist attacks. "It's about time
the DMV took a stand on this."
In June, the DMV rescinded its [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
Molokan exemption" in an
administrative action that affected fewer than 20
motorists, who now must be photographed if they wish
to renew their licenses.
To overturn Stackler's court order, which was
unaffected by the administrative action, the DMV's
attorneys filed a lawsuit on Oct. 30 in Sacramento
Superior Court, arguing that religious beliefs do not
excuse people from complying with the law.
"The request to obtain a license without a picture
now takes place against the backdrop of a different
world, where threats from perils such as identity
theft and terrorism make the practice especially
precarious," the lawsuit said.
In an interview, Stackler said he would fight
vigorously to keep his license photo-free. He demurred
when asked his age, profession or association with the
He also declined to categorize his religious beliefs,
other than calling himself "a biblically oriented
person" who lives by Psalms and Proverbs.
Molokan, a Christian
sect with roots in Russia, has 30,000 to 50,000
followers in California, Oregon and Arizona, according
to Ethel Dunn, executive secretary of Berkeley-based
Highgate Road Social Science Research Station, which
has published books on the religion.
According to Dunn and a Los Angeles member of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik]
community, only a small minority within the faith
refuses to sit for [government] photos. But a common trait
among many is an intense desire for privacy. [Particularly the most conservative
faction of Maksimisty. But all have many
"We are a pretty low-profile group of people. We
don't want any extra attention brought to us," said
Molokan man, whose
father is a church elder and who would speak only on
the condition that his name not be published.
"We want to give glory to God, not to us."
The member, who does not know Stackler, said he and
Molokans have photos on
their driver's licenses. But the DMV's actions make
life difficult for "true believers," he added. "They
strongly believe a picture is a graven image and it
would conflict with their beliefs."
Others question just how much a driver's license
photo would deter crime.
"The people who did the hijacking on 9/11 — all of
them had licenses with photos, and that didn't stop
them," said Kopper, the attorney.
If you have a question, gripe or story
idea about driving in Southern California, write to
Behind the Wheel c/o Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st
St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or send an e-mail to
By Arash Shadi —
University High School, Los Angeles, CA — 11/21/2003 —
Volume LXXXIII, Issue 8
Benjamin Stackler is facing off the Department of Motor
Vehicles (DMV) to continue receiving a driver’s license.
But the DMV renews licenses with very little difficulty,
so what’s the fuss?
The fuss is Benjamin Stackler wants a picture-less
license. And for the past 20 years, that’s what he has
A full-face picture has been required by California law
to be on a driver’s license since 1958. Followers of the
Molokan faith immediately fought the act during the
1960’s, when they won an exemption for themselves.
In June, the DMV decided to undo this Molokan exception,
which affects fewer than 20 individuals out of the 22.6
million people on file, Stackler among the few. And for
good reason: in a post September 11 America, identity is
a massive issue.
Steven Gourley, DMV Director, claims, “It’s about time
the DMV took a stand on this.” He also believes that
“it’s a completely unsafe practice to issue driver’s
licenses…without a photograph.”
Of course, Benjamin Stackler’s attorney, Bill Kopper,
was paid to feel differently. “People’s religious rights
are being impinged upon in the name of national
security. Where is it going to stop?”
Good question Bill, my answer is when there is peace in
the Middle East, and all the terrorist groups are
rounded up in Guantanamo Bay. Many other Americans may
say that it will desist when Al Queda is stopped from
taking thousands of innocent lives. Take your pick; the
choice is yours.
And besides, the first thing I was taught in Driver’s
Education was that a driver’s license is a privilege, no
one is required by law to receive one.
Therefore, Stackler’s religious rights aren’t being
“impinged upon” as Bill Kopper suggested.
I believe that it is unfair, unjust, and unsafe to allow
individuals to get away with not taking their picture
for a driver’s license. What especially disturbs me
about this is that out of approximately 30 thousand
Molokans in California, only a handful decided to pursue
not taking a photo for their privileged licenses.
I don’t suggest that the Molokans switch gears on their
beliefs, but my view is that if your religion does not
permit photos, then don’t pursue a driver’s license.
Chip Johnson —
San Francisco Chronicle — Monday, November
Benjamin Stackler is one of a handful of California
motorists whose right to hold photoless driver's
licenses issued to them under a religious exemption is
now being challenged by a security-minded state
Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Berkeley man's objections stem from his religious
beliefs, which he says are based on his adherence
to [a Dukh-i-zhiznik
Church, a sect that follows strict Biblical
interpretation and considers photographs a violation
of the Second Commandment outlawing any "graven
After a seven-year legal battle two decades ago, a
Sacramento Superior Court ruled in his favor and he
was issued a photoless identification in 1984.
But nearly 20 years later, Stackler's exempt status,
along with recent religion-based challenges in other
states, is on a collision course with officials at
every level of government whose focus is on heightened
security measures since the Sept. 11 attacks.
If the national climate is a barometer for Stackler's
chances, he may be in for quite a tussle. A Muslim
woman in Florida lost a similar challenge last June.
Sultaana Freeman said removing her veil for a driver's
license photo was prohibited by her religious
And, despite the precedent set by religious
exemptions in more than a dozen states since the early
1980s, the trend among motor vehicle department
officials is geared toward a whole lot more security
and whole lot fewer exemptions.
Consider the main topic at the next national forum of
the American Association of Motor Vehicle
Administrators: "Driver's License and Identification
Security." The industry organization, which represents
virtually every DMV in the country, has pledged to
pick up the tab for up to five representatives from
each member organization.
Although our new celebrity governor fired state DMV
chief David Gourley soon after his first gubernatorial
action of repealing the state's car tax, the state
agency is not expected to change its position on
license photographs under its new chief administrator,
said spokesman Bill Branch.
Stackler's attorney, Bill Kopper of Davis, said the
state's legal foundation rests on an Oregon case that
allowed government to intervene under a reduced
standard of a compelling state interest.
Kopper maintains that his client's status should be
unaffected by the ruling.
But for all the reasons that Stackler believes he
should stick to his principles, there are an equal
number of reasons that he should sit on the stool and
get his picture taken like everyone else.
Already been photographed
Unless there is a caveat to "knowingly" submitting to
a photograph, Stackler — and probably Freeman, too —
have already broken the rules.
Given the technology that is inextricably tied to our
daily lives, a fact even Stackler begrudgingly
admitted in a telephone interview, there is little
left to his argument other than sheer principle.
That's because his "graven image" has probably been
captured at least 1,000 times already.
If Stackler has ever been to a bank or used an ATM
machine, shopped at a grocery or convenience store,
visited a mall or walked into an airport, train or bus
station — and that's a short list — his photograph has
His photo has been captured in black and white and in
color, from most reasonable angles. It's been viewed
in real time, run forward, backward, in slow and fast
motion. And if the security guard was bored, he might
have drawn a mustache on it.
Can't remember photos
When I asked Stackler if he's ever willingly
submitted to a photograph, I got the strangest
"I can't recall," he said.
If I'd spent 27 years of my life avoiding the camera
lens, I think I'd remember, but hey, that's just
Still, Stackler's attorney pretty easily shredded the
state agency's security argument by pointing out that
virtually all of the 19 terrorists who carried out the
coordinated attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York
City held valid driver's licenses and it didn't stop a
Who can argue that point? But it seems odd that
Stackler can concede that his photo has likely already
been captured for an eternity, or until it's taped
over, but still hold on to a principle that has become
a moot point.
Perhaps practical reasoning is allowed, living by his
strict religious codes. I have a couple of firm
beliefs as well.
Reasonable to ID drivers
One of them is this: It is completely reasonable to
ask someone who operates a vehicle on a public street
to register both man and machine, and submit to being
photographed to identify both.
And for critics who say such policies are converging
with the Bush administration's frenzied call for
heightened security and the U.S. Patriot Act, I'd
completely agree with you.
Americans can travel from state to state without much
hassle, and maybe we suffer from a collective
deception, because virtually all of us carry papers,
documents and cards that have identified us, and our
property, all our adult lives.
E-mail Chip Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to him at 483 Ninth St., Suite 100, Oakland,