Last week, a lineup of expert witnesses testified in the court case brought by Sultaana Freeman, the Muslim woman who was fighting for her right to wear a veil in her driver's-license photo. Authorities on both sides of the issue discussed the merits of Ms. Freeman's claim that she should be allowed to maintain her chosen identity, even within the current atmosphere of domestic insecurity. Here are some excerpts from the trial transcript, only now seeing the light of publication.
Attorney: Please state your name for the record.
Witness one: The Unknown Comic.
A: Mr. Comic ...
W: Just call me "Un." Hee hee.
A: Mr. Un, you are a comedian who performs with a brown paper bag obscuring his features. How important do you feel this gimmick is to your place in society?
W: I'm glad you asked me that, Chuckie baby.
A: My name's not ...
W: It's a real good question. If I wasn't wearing this bag, I wouldn't be The Unknown Comic. I'd be The Known Comic. Or The Strangely Familiar Comic. Or The Can't-Place-Him-Right-Away-But-I-Know-I'll Get-It Comic. Or I could just go by what my mother called me. But that's another problem right there.
A: How so?
W: You try fitting "Old Shit-for-Brains" on a mailbox! Hee hee. (Rim shot.)
A: Mr. Un, do you currently possess a valid driver's license?
W: You betcha.
A: And it was issued where?
W: In Burbank. I walked in and sat down in the little chair. The guy behind the camera says, "Hey! Take that thing off your head!" And I said, "If it's so much trouble, why don't we just use a picture of Gary Busey? He's half in the bag already!" Hee hee! (Rim shot.)
A: Mr. Un, thank you for coming here today.
W: Wait, wait, wait, Chuckie baby. Before we go to commercial, I want to ask you a question for a change. Do you know what it looks like when a dog has explosive diarrhea?
A: No, I don't.
W: Well, then, don't give me fudge this Christmas! (Rim shot.)
A: No further questions, your honor.
Attorney: State your name, please.
Witness two: (unintelligible)
A: I'm sorry. Can you speak a little more clearly?
W: Jean Chrétien.
A: And your occupation?
W: Prime minister of Canada.
A: Mr. Chrétien, did you recently have an experience that involved facial exposure and photo identification?
W: Yeah, I did. I went in to get my passport renewed, so I could make a diplomatic visit to your lovely country, eh? And just when I was goin' to have my picture taken, it hit me that I'd have to take off my surgical mask.
A: Your what?
W: My surgical mask. The one I wear at all times to do my part in the fight against SARS. I'm wearin' it now. That's why you couldn't understand me right away, eh?
A: Of course. I'm just establishing the facts for the record. So, what did you do?
W: Well, I was pretty conflicted. I kept bouncin' it back and forth in my mind: trip, SARS, trip, SARS. And I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and go bare-faced.
W: There was just no gettin' around it, eh? If I want to travel, the Mounties have to know what I look like. Otherwise, I'm just another faceless Canuck with a late-stage Molson jones and a garage full of Gordon Lightfoot albums.
A: Thank you for your testimony.
Attorney: Please state your name.
Witness three: Benjamin J. Affleck.
A: Mr. Affleck, will you tell the court what happened to you on the night of February 14, 2003?
W: I was standing outside a movie theater in the Hamptons. And some kids came up to look at a poster for my latest picture, "Daredevil." It's the one where I'm standing on the rooftop in my red leather outfit and my horned mask, ready to mete out justice on the mean streets below. They seemed really excited.
A: And then what happened?
W: Do I have to say?
A: You're under oath.
W: Well, those kids were looking at the poster pretty closely. And then it was like a light bulb went off over one of their heads, because he blurted out, "Awww, fuck! It's Affleck!" And they all walked off and bought tickets for Kangaroo Jack instead.
A: So you would say that, in this case, the mere wearing of elaborate headgear did not prevent your identity from being discerned?
W: You want a busted kneecap?
A: No further questions.
Attorney: Please tell the court your name.
Witness four: Pastor Charles Robb.
A: And how would this court be familiar with you?
W: I am the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
A: Pastor Robb, you spend a great deal of your time beneath a hood. How do you feel about Ms. Freeman's desire to wear a headdress of her own in her state I.D. photo?
W: I'm all for it, except I think we should be careful to establish what color it is.
A: Excuse me?
W: As long as it's a black veil like she's been wearing, then she should go right ahead. It makes her easier to identify as a follower of a wicked religion and an enemy of our proud nation. But if she wants to wear a white one for some reason, there's every chance some of our more easily confused members might mistake her for one of us.
A: Is this a major concern of yours?
W: Absolutely. Drivers' licenses could be an important resource for us. We've got brothers who work as bouncers, brothers who sit behind the counter at convenience stores. A few of 'em are even down at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Chuckles.) And there's nothing like having a piece of plastic to tell you just who's who and what's what. Plus, it's got their address right on it! Makes it easier to plan group outings, if you catch my drift.
A: We should probably wrap this up ...
W: As far as I'm concerned, Miss Freeman is doing us a favor. Everybody should carry I.D. that announces their real loyalties to the world. It's the simplest way to separate the undesirables from God-fearing folks like you and me.
A: (Puts paper bag over head.) Our side rests, your honor.