Yesterday, a federal judge put a stop to this nonsense with a preliminary injunction. Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU North Carolina Legal Foundation (which argued against the North Carolina DMV) previously said in a press release:
“This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one’s position on abortion. Our position would be the same if the State had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative. In that situation, the ACLU-NCLF would be suing on behalf of anti-choice drivers under the exact same theory of viewpoint discrimination.”
“If anti-choice drivers are permitted to express their views on their license plates, people like me should be able to express our view that women deserve full reproductive freedom,” said Sue Holliday, plaintiff and certified nurse midwife.
(I like how they both use “anti-choice.” Nice touch. See the footnote below.) Now, the ACLU appears to have limited their legal arguments to the idea that if you give a government-sponsored voice to one side of the debate, you have to give it to the other. (They requested a license plate which read “Respect Choice”). My issues with this go further, though. There’s a big problem with where the money is going from these license plates. The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship gets $15 of every $25 that a driver pays for these plates. Now, there’s a debate to be had about whether this is private speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. My particular problem with this is found in the organization’s mission statement:
Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship (CPCF) is a statewide, 501(c)3 nonprofit, pro-life organization committed to offering help and encouragement to those God calls into pregnancy care ministry, especially those located in North Carolina.
Their site indicates they run crisis pregnancy centers. By approving this license plate and the revenue that would come from it, the state legislature (at the very least) is implicitly approving this position and the underlying religious rationale. They all, as individuals, can believe whatever they want. It’s way out of line to make this sort of religiously-justified rhetoric into the Official State Position.
The good news is that in order to win a motion for a preliminary injunction you have to show a “likelihood of success on the merits.” That means the judge has already shown a sympathy towards the ACLU’s position by granting the motion. The only logical outcome of this suit is to require the DMV to provide either an alternative or withdraw the “pro-life” plate option.
(I know, I know, lots of non-profits with religious bases get public funds. Doesn’t mean I have to think it’s constitutional.)
*There’s a whole discussion here to be had about the rhetorical uses of “life” and “choice” labels in this debate. I mean, who’s against life?