Atheists Are Pushing Back Against Mississippi’s “In God We Trust” License Plates May 12, 2018

Atheists Are Pushing Back Against Mississippi’s “In God We Trust” License Plates

On Thursday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant introduced the state’s new “default” license plate — the one that will automatically be given to anybody who needs one — and it includes the state seal with the phrase “In God We Trust” on it.

The plates will be distributed beginning in January of 2019.

Bryant signed a bill to put the Christian phrase on the seal in 2014, so this is the next phase in pushing God on all the citizens in the state.

If you want to avoid promoting God by getting a different background on your license plate, it’ll cost you. Which, in a way, is like a tax on non-Christian residents.

The American Humanist Association’s Legal Director David Niose issued a warning about the new plates in a letter sent to Bryant yesterday, saying that the change raises a number of constitutional concerns.

Unlike on our money, he says, the religious phrase here is front and center… and large. It’s clearly a promotion of religion. Niose is calling on Bryant to make sure there are free alternative plates for residents that don’t include religious propaganda.

To display any statement on the back of one’s vehicle is to promote that statement. Unlike the use of “In God We Trust” on money, which is only visible if one makes an affirmative effort to read it, the larger public display of “In God We Trust” on motor vehicles, alongside bumper stickers and other signage, more clearly makes a statement endorsing the theistic assumptions underlying the phrase. The problem, obviously, is that many individuals do not believe in a God, let alone trust in him, her, or it. Thus, to create a standard license plate that displays that phrase, with no alternative at an equal cost that avoids such a statement, unconstitutionally endorses religion.

It is our expectation that proper steps will be taken to ensure that non-theistic Mississippi drivers can, without paying extra for a variety plate, display a license plate that does not make a theistic affirmation. Ideally, this would mean the state choosing another, neutral design as the standard plate. In the alternative, other options could be made available at the standard-plate rate. Either way, we hope that the issue will be promptly addressed. Thank you, and feel free to contact me if you or your representatives wish to discuss this matter.

It’s unclear if the AHA will file a lawsuit if no changes are made, but Niose points to legal precedent that suggests he’s on the right side of the issue. (Plus, do you really think Bryant thought through or cared about the church/state implications of his decision?)

Even outside the legal questions, though, forcing the religious phrase on everyone, even in Mississippi, is an idea that Christians ought to oppose. They would be up in arms if the phrase was an obvious reference to a non-Christian God. If the seal said “In God We Don’t Trust,” would they remain silent? Would they just accept the plate? Or would they argue that the government has no right to force an atheistic perspective on them?

Just because “In God We Trust” has been around for decades doesn’t mean it’s okay for politicians can slap the phrase everywhere they find space. Tradition doesn’t make something right, and this religious motto has always been a bad tradition.

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