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ACLU drops missionary's license-photo case

September 28, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union has dropped the case of a Gerrardstown, W.Va., missionary who is suing the state of West Virginia over his refusal to have his picture taken for his driver's license.

[cont. from news page]

Benjamin David Daniel Cyrus, 63, said he believes the photo requirement by the state's Division of Motor Vehicles is a violation of the Ten Commandments.

The ACLU in Charleston, W.Va., had been handling the lawsuit but dropped it Aug. 30 after Cyrus expressed concerns about the way the case was being handled.

"He didn't like what we were doing. I don't know what he wanted done differently but he expressed dissatisfaction so we withdrew from the case," said Hilary Chiz, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia in Charleston.

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Cyrus decided to take the West Virginia DMV to court in December 1998 after he was refused a driver's license because he would not pose for a photo.

The West Virginia DMV could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

The Church of the Firstborn at New Jerusalem missionary has a North Carolina driver's license but wants to get a West Virginia license so that he can continue what Cyrus calls "the Lord's will."

The ACLU spent hundreds of hours on the case and it came as a shock that Cyrus was dissatisfied with the work being done, Chiz said.

Cyrus said he never said he was unhappy with the ACLU's work but feels the group was more interested in promoting itself than winning the lawsuit.

Cyrus added he was concerned about his attorney's interest in the case but never considered filing any complaints about the work being done.

"It wouldn't be right to complain about something that was being done for free," Cyrus said.

Paul Weiss, the Martinsburg attorney who had been representing Cyrus for the ACLU, declined comment for attorney-client privilege reasons.

The ACLU's decision to withdraw from the case has left Cyrus facing the prospect of paying for what could be a long and expensive battle with the state of West Virginia.

"I can't represent myself because that would be bearing false witness against God. I would be misrepresenting myself as an attorney," Cyrus said.

Cyrus has hired a South Charleston, W.Va., attorney to work on the case but said he doesn't know how he will pay for it.

"I get Social Security, but at age 63, it will take me until I'm 100 to pay for this," Cyrus said.

Richie Robb, Cyrus' new attorney, said he will charge his new client "as cheaply as possible" but said he has no idea how much the case will cost.

The state filed a motion to dismiss the case Tuesday and Robb said he has two weeks to study the case and file his opposition.

Despite the falling out with Cyrus, Chiz feels he has a strong case.

Most other states allow religious exemptions for driver's licenses and West Virginia should be no different, Chiz said.

"We thought it was winner when we took it and we still think it's a winner," Chiz said.

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