Pagan priest wins right to wear horns on state-issued ID

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MILLINOCKET, Me —  A Priest of Pan has won the right to wear his religious headgear, a pair of horns, in his state-issued identification photo. After initially being told he could not wear his horns in the photo, Phelan MoonSong says he kept pressing for the same accommodation other religions receive.

Yesterday, his new ID finally arrived.


[Reprinted with permission]

It all started in June, when MoonSong decided his birth name longer fit him and legally changed it. With the new name came a need for a new identification card.

In early August, MoonSong went to the nearest Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) located in Bangor. He stood in line with other residents, who asked MoonSong about the significance of his horns. When he reached the front of the line, everything was routine. He provided his change of name documentation, birth certificate, and other identifying documents. He was then told to wait before having his photo taken.

“I was eventually called up and the clerk asked me if my horns were implanted and I told her they are not,” says MoonSong. He informed the clerk that he wears them all the time as a religious headpiece as a Priest of Pan.

MoonSong says the clerk then conferred with co-workers. She returned and took his photo with the horns on. But there was a catch.

“She then told me I had to get my photo approved by the Secretary of State,” explains Moonsong. “She also informed me I was to mail him any religious documentation from a central governing body or doctrine of what my religion requires me to wear, copies from any religious books of my order or belief requiring such wear, etc.”

MoonSong informed the clerk that Pagan religions don’t have central governing bodies or authoritative books, but he would send in supporting sources.

“I went home and wrote a personal essay on why my Horns of Pan were important to me and my Spirituality. How I feel the wearing of them as a Priest of Pan connects me and helps provide outreach and education,” says MoonSong.

In his letter, he also explained the historical significance of the ancients and their wearing of “Horns of Power” throughout history around the world. In place of a citation from a governing body or dogmatic book, MoonSong sent in excerpts from The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training, The Symbolism of Horns – The Ecphorizer, and Horned Gods: A Comparative Mythology Perspective. All excerpts discussed the religious significance of wearing horns.

MoonSong says he mailed the package off in mid-August. Then he waited. And waited.

Phelan MoonSong [Courtesy Photo]

Why did MoonSong go through so much effort to be allowed to wear his horns in the official photo? “My horns have become very important to me, the feel of them on my head, they are like a Spiritual Antenna,” he explains.

He added that they are no different than nun’s habit or a Sikh’s turban, both of which are allowed in ID photos under Maine law. According to a compilation document detailing state requirements, Maine’s law reads:

No one will be allowed to wear a hat or other headdress when their photo is taken, except for a Nun who may wear the headdress as part of their ‘habit,’ or a turban may be worn in conjunction with religious beliefs. A person undergoing chemotherapy and requests to wear a kerchief, hat, etc., is allowed to do so.

MoonSong says he’s been wearing horns since 2008, and this particular set since 2009. The horns are real goat horns, and he says that feels naked without them.

By the end of November, MoonSong still hadn’t heard back from the Secretary of State or the BMV so he placed a call to the main office in Augusta. They informed MoonSong that his request had been denied, and that he would need to get another photo taken without the horns.

At that point, he asked to speak with someone with more decision making authority to appeal the decision, and he was told someone would call him back.

Two weeks later, while visiting Portland, Moonsong decided to see what else he could do to push the issue. He visited the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) and requested assistance. Next, he headed to the BMV office to see where they were with his appeal.

After discussing his situation with the clerk and mentioning that he was seeking help from the MCLU, the clerk went to confer with a supervisor. When she came back, she had good news. He would be allowed to wear the horns as a religious headpiece in his driver’s license photo.

The clerk said the initial refusal was because MoonSong hadn’t stated they were for religious purposes as a minister. However, MoonSong says he did clearly state that the horns were part of his ministerial garb from the very beginning and that he included this information in the material sent to the Secretary of State.

Since the original story of his quest to wear his horns in the photo and the BMV’S refusal to allow it broke in mainstream news. Moonsong has been receiving messages of support. He believes that his successful challenge will help other Pagans across the country be treated similarly to the other more well-known religions.

“I do not see any problem as long as sincere beliefs are held and whatever rules are applied are applied to all fairly and equally. Freedom of religion means all religions, not just your own.”

CORRECTION 12/15: It was clarified that the ID in question was not a license, but rather a state-issued identification card, which carries the same regulations regarding official photographs.