The Hoosier Plate Debate

Here in Indiana, you have a few options when it comes to your license plate. Assuming you are driving a car (not a commercial vehicle, truck, motorcycle, RV, or some other vehicle which requires a different plate) you can choose among the plates shown below.

There is no difference in cost between these. By default, the license branch is supposed to offer the simple blue background plate first, and offer the other two as options upon request. If you would prefer, you may pay extra for a plate that benefits the organization of your choice, such as your favorite university, or perhaps Habitat for Humanity, with a portion of the extra fee given to the organization represented on the plate. Further, Indiana permits personalized license plates (PLPs) with some restrictions on what is allowed on the plate. I'm paraphrasing, but the essence of the restrictions are that the common man will not find your combination of seven letters and numbers offensive.

If you live in Indiana, you've probably seen these plates already, and you may remember that the "In God We Trust" plate got some attention when it debuted. The ACLU brought suit against the state, not for the content of the plate, but to contend that it should carry an extra fee. The ACLU lost the case, and the plate continues to be available to anyone who asks for it at no additional charge.

Now, a bit of trivia. Do you consider the phrase "In God We Trust" to be a religious message? If you said no, the Indiana and US courts would agree with you. You see, "In God We Trust" is the official motto of the United States, and as such, is not considered religious speech. Way back in 1782 the phrase E Pluribus Unum ("out of many, one") was chosen as the text to appear on the Great Seal of the United States. This became the de facto motto for our nation, although there was never any action taken to make it official. In 1956, the lack of an official national motto was apparently a major concern, so congress worked on a bill and President Eisenhower signed into law that "In God We Trust" would become our national motto. This wasn't the first use of the phrase in our government, as it had appeared on our coins and bills since the late 1800's.

That effectively kills any religious argument against the "In God We Trust" plate, but what about speech on PLPs? Should I be able to reserve a PLP with the text "LUVSGOD", "BE GODS", or "NO GODS"? That's exactly what Jason Borneman wants to know. Jason, an atheist, applied for a PLP with the text "NO GODS". His application was rejected on the grounds that it might be offensive, and he is pursuing this through an appeal. Some have suggested that a more positive message might have been accepted, such as "GODFREE" rather than the negative statement "NO GODS". What do you think? If a "BE GODS" PLP is allowed, should a "NO GODS" plate be allowed too?

UPDATE: Mr. Bourneman received notice from the BMV that his PLP application has now been approved, and he will receive his "NO GODS" plate in February.


Alcuin said...

It's hard to beat a lawsuit over license plates for a pointless way to waste money.

marta said...

I agree Alcuin! I see nothing offensive about the athiests plate choice. I would consider cuss words or vulgar innuendo to be offensive.

Jade Mason