Last week, the American Humanist Association called on Mississippi to offer a free alternative to its new default license plate that includes the words “In God We Trust.”
As it stands, if you want to avoid promoting God on your car, it’ll cost you money. It’s not like you can stick a piece of tape over the phrase either — covering up any portion of the plate is a misdemeanor that comes with a fine. In other words, there’s now a tax on non-Christian residents. Either you get the state’s default license plate or you have to pay them for a different one.
Now Americans United for Separation of Church and State is getting involved. In a letter sent to Department of Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson and Attorney General Jim Hood, AU’s Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser says this plate “violates multiple constitutional provisions and statutes,” including ones in both the U.S. and Mississippi constitutions.
He closes his letter with a simple solution:
We therefore request that you make available without extra charge, to any Mississippi residents who object to the display of the message “In God We Trust” on their license plates, an alternative plate that does not contain the message. For example, Mississippi could provide objecting motorists, at the same price as the “In God We Trust” plate, the “Birthplace of America’s Music” plate that served as the state’s standard license plate from 2013 through 2018.
Luchenitser also calls for “appropriate administrative action” to prohibit anyone from getting in trouble for covering up the part of the license plate that says “In God We Trust.” That alone wouldn’t resolve the myriad constitutional concerns, though, because having that phrase on the plate would still be an endorsement of religion by the state.
Now that two different organizations have sent warning letters to state officials, the groundwork is set for a possible lawsuit if Mississippi doesn’t comply. This is such a simple thing to fix, yet I still don’t have confidence that they’ll do the right thing.
As I said before, forcing a 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.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)