The ACLU may pursue litigation against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles after they rejected Chris Bontrager‘s request for an “ATHE1ST” license plate.
Chris told me he wanted to get the “ATHEIST” plate (with an “I”), but the online system said it was unavailable. When he substituted the number “1” for the “I,” however, everything seemed fine. He paid the cost and waited for his new plates.
They never came. Instead, the BMV sent him a letter saying he needed to try again. While they didn’t give him a specific explanation, the letter explained that the only reasons a personalized plate could be rejected were being “offensive to good taste or decency,” misleading, or “improper.”
None of those reasons makes any sense when considering a license plate that merely says the A-word.
“The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a state-issued license plate message constitutes government speech. As such, the BMV has broad discretion to approve or deny a given personlized plate message for any reason,” said the BMV.
Bontrager said that he has spoken with ACLU lawyers about suing the state to have his license plate approved and Bontrager said he was told by the ACLU that he might have a case based on the state’s Establishment Clause, which provides that if the government allows one religious statement, it must allow all religions to have the same benefit.
“There are a lot of people out on the road with personalized plates that have other religious messages on them,” he said.
The ACLU hasn’t announced what it plans to do. But if the BMV has ever issued a plate with a reference to God or Jesus, they have no right saying no here. Plus, legal battles have been fought and won over “ATHE1ST” plates in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Given all the other states that allow ATHEIST plates — not to mention variations of the word — Indiana would be wise to just issue the plate and move on.
But if there’s a legitimate reason for rejecting the ATHE1ST plate, Chris told me he has some alternatives in mind: “I will probably try to go with 8THEIST or GODL3SS.”
(Image via Shutterstock)