New Jersey does not have a good track record when it comes to handling vanity license plates requests from atheists.
In August, American Atheists’ President David Silverman requested a plate reading “ATHE1ST” (with a 1) only to have it rejected for being “offensive.” He appealed that decision and the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission quickly reversed course. (Or, as they called it, fixed a “clerical error.”)
In November, New Jersey resident Shannon Morgan, unaware of what Silverman had been through, attempted to get her own vanity plate reading “8theist.” Again, it was rejected on grounds of being “objectionable.”
Shannon wanted to know what would happen if she requested “BAPTIST” instead… and that one went through without a problem.
Shannon has tried to contact the MVC to understand their decision and possibly appeal it, but the MVC just won’t respond to her. They promised to call her… and didn’t. She wrote them a letter. They definitely received it… but didn’t respond to that, either.
For Shannon (and to a lot of us), this isn’t just an amusing quirk. It’s discrimination.
Yesterday, backed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, she filed a federal lawsuit against Raymond Martinez, the chair of the New Jersey MVC:
“The state of New Jersey is favoring religion while disparaging non-belief,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It simply has no right to do that.”
Added Lynn, “This license plate issue may seem like a small matter but it is indicative of a much larger problem — atheists are often treated by the government as second-class citizens.”
“The Commission thus has a practice of denying personalized license plates that identify vehicle owners as atheist, thereby discriminating against atheist viewpoints and expressing a preference for religion over atheism,” AU says in its lawsuit.
This isn’t a frivolous lawsuit. All the MVC had to do was say “yes” to the plate — or provide a compelling reason when saying “no.” They did neither. Since MVC officials research all vanity plates before approving them, this isn’t just a computer glitch. Someone thinks “atheist” is a dirty, offensive, objectionable word.
Too damn bad. The MVC doesn’t get to say religious plates are okay but non-religious plates are not. Can’t wait to hear their explanation (or apology) this time around.