If you want to buy the specialty “In God We Trust” license plate in Arizona, the state says that $17 of your $25 annual fee “goes to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust’, 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.”
That’s… not exactly up my alley. But you can see why a lot of people might want it even if they’re not Christians.
What the state doesn’t tell anyone publicly is that the $17 is sent to Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian Right organization that is labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In fact, more than a million dollars has been given to the anti-LGBTQ group since the plate was first established in 2008.
State Sen. Juan Mendez, one of the few openly atheist state senators in the country, has now proposed a bill, SB 1462, that would create a public list of groups that benefit from those specialty plates. He wants to make everything transparent.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona explains more:
Under the new bill, the Department of Transportation would be required to maintain a database with the name and mission of each entity receiving funds from specialty plates. Any driver selecting a specialty plate would also receive information on their registration receipt about the entity funded by their selected plate.
“The legislation establishing this license plate passed as a floor amendment with no discussion — there was no public awareness of what was happening or where the money was going,” says Tory Roberg, the director of government affairs for the Secular Coalition for Arizona… “People who choose the ‘In God We Trust’ plate never know that they’re sending money to ADF. It’s not on the ServiceArizona website, it’s not in the statute establishing the plate, it’s nowhere.”
“Arizonans deserve to know exactly where their tax dollars are going,” says Nick Fish, president of American Atheists… “ADF’s record as an anti-LGBTQ, anti-religious equality hate group isn’t up for debate. Arizona taxpayers are unwittingly funding attacks on the rights of their neighbors and loved ones under the false pretense of protecting religious liberty.”
This is a perfectly sensible bill that isn’t anti-Christian; it’s pro-transparency. Why would ADF not want people to know where their money is going… unless they’re relying on Arizonans’ ignorance to rake in extra cash?
Mendez isn’t just stopping there, either. He also introduced another bill, SB 1463, that would repeal the “In God We Trust” plate altogether. That’s the only legal way, it seems, to block the “In God We Trust” plate money from reaching ADF.
“Hopefully in the future we can put in place some common sense guidelines that would bar hate groups from earning money through Arizona license plates,” says Mendez. “State dollars should not be funding an organization that works to strip residents of our state of their human rights and human dignity. It’s appalling that we’ve already sent over a million dollars to this extremist hate group.”
That bill is actually pretty ingenious. It doesn’t straight-up say “We must repeal the God plate” or anything like it. It just redefines which specialty plates can funnel fees to organizations. The “In God We Trust” plate was established by statute 28-2430. Now check out how this bill notes which license plates “count” for donations:
Sneaky, sneaky… I love it. It just skips over the problematic plate.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona also says there’s support for these bills from a local pastor who agrees that no money from the license plate should be going to a hate group:
“What do people not understand about the inappropriateness of this kind of fundamentalist inspired, state-sanctioned discrimination?” says David Felten, a pastor at Fountain Hill United Methodist Church, who supports Secular AZ’s campaign. “This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It’s a very real rejection of Arizona’s LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens.”
Will these bills pass? There’s no reason the first one should fail, but Republicans will almost certainly push back against the second one. Still, by filing these bills, Sen. Mendez is alerting citizens to the fact that their license plates could unwittingly be funding anti-LGBTQ hate. That’s no small feat.