What is with state governments rejecting perfectly inoffensive license plates? It took a letter from a lawyer and all sorts of media attention for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles to give a man the “ATHE1ST” plate (with a 1 in place of the I). The delay suggested that our mere existence was offensive to some people.
And now the head of Kentucky’s Division of Motor Vehicles is being sued after rejecting a man’s request to get a license plate reading “IM GOD,” even though he had it (without incident) in Ohio, where he lived for the past twelve years.
Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) officials initially refused ACLU-KY/FFRF client Ben Hart’s request early this year claiming that the license plate message was, “obscene or vulgar,” but then later saying it was because the plate was “not in good taste.” The lawsuit challenges certain portions of the regulations governing personalized license plates as unlawful, namely those that allow government officials to deny plates based on vague notions of “good taste” as well as those barring personalized plates from communicating religious, anti-religious or political messages.
“I simply want the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any other driver,” says Hart. “There is nothing ‘obscene or vulgar’ about my view that religious beliefs are subject to individual interpretation.”
There’s a difference between using a curse word to describe God and saying you simply don’t believe one exists (or that you are Him). By saying “I am God” is an obscene statement, or one in poor taste, the government is effectively taking a position on religion.
The ACLU of Kentucky and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have now filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ben Hart against the state’s DMV:
“Under the First Amendment, government officials do not have the authority to censor messages simply because they dislike them,” says ACLU-KY Legal Director William Sharp. “And in this instance, personalized license plates are a form of individual speech equally deserving of First Amendment protection.”
“Hart has a right to select a personalized plate message that reflects his philosophical views, just as any other driver may select an individual message for their personalized plate,” says FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. “Just as others may select religious messages, Ben Hart, an atheist, has a right to comment on religion.”
Considering that Kentucky already has a option for citizens to buy a license plate template with the phrase “In God We Trust,” it’s absurd that a contrary position on the plate itself is considered offensive by the government. If they’re allowing one viewpoint on God, they’ve opened the door to all the other ones, too.
By the way, I hope you noticed in the picture above that Hart’s Ohio license plate had the phrase “One Nation Under God” at the bottom. And if that phrase includes the words “under God,” then Hart is clearly in the right place above them!