Lawsuit already filed over “I Believe” license plates.

One of the stories making the rounds of various atheist blogs recently was about attempts in some southern states to pass legislation for new vanity plates for True Believers™. The plates would have the words “I BELIEVE” with a picture of a cross on a stained glass window. Needless to say, the imagery raises some church/state concerns. South Carolina is the first state to actually pass the legislation to make these plates possible and it’s already resulted in a lawsuit by the folks at Americans United:

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A group that advocates separation of church and state filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to prevent South Carolina from becoming the first state to create “I Believe” license plates.

The group contends that South Carolina’s government is endorsing Christianity by allowing the plates, which would include a cross superimposed on a stained glass window.

You just know the conservative Christians are going to have a field day over this lawsuit claiming it’s us nasty atheists trying to push God out of the public square once again, but as it turns out there’s no atheists involved in the lawsuit:

Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian pastors, a humanist pastor and a rabbi in South Carolina, along with the Hindu American Foundation.

Not that that’ll stop them from claiming it’s anti-religious sentiment that’s prompting the lawsuit:

Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell said residents asked for a way to express their beliefs, and legislators responded.

He disputed Lynn’s accusation that they were pandering to constituents in an election year.

“That’s what critics always say when they see something they don’t like,” Harrell said. “I think this has less to do with the First Amendment and more to do with their disdain for religion generally.”

An argument that’s obviously flawed due to the fact that religious leaders are the ones involved in the suit:

But a Methodist pastor who joined the lawsuit, the retired Rev. Thomas Summers of Columbia, said the plate provokes discrimination.

“I think this license plate really is divisive and creates the type of religious discord I’ve devoted my life to healing,” he said.

Another of the ministers, the Rev. Robert Knight of Charleston, said the plates cheapen the Christian message.

“As an evangelical Christian, I don’t think civil religion enhances the Christian religion. It compromises it,” Knight said. “That’s the fundamental irony. It’s very shallow from a Christian standpoint.”

Get ready to cue the gnashing of teeth and whines about us atheists at Wing Nut Daily in 5… 4… 3…


20 thoughts on “Lawsuit already filed over “I Believe” license plates.

  1. Certainly is different.  A bunch of religious groups going after the state for promoting religion.  I wonder what the Atheists in the state think.

    Also, from what I can tell, the plates aren’t mandatory or handed out to people arbitrarily.  I can understand resentment if I was given an “I Believe” plate if I didn’t ask for it.

    On the other hand, the answer is simple: remove the cross from the plate and create another plate with a Darwin fish or something on it saying “I Don’t Believe”  I’ll take one (although I live in Wisconsin) Then the state isn’t ‘endorsing’ a religion.  It would just be allowing people to announce whether they do or do not believe.

    Somehow, I don’t think that solution is even going to come up.

  2. For anyone who would pay for these plates, I would just like to quote a very famous person on the matter of public displays of religiosity:

    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    -Matthew 6:4-6 (Jesus Christ)

  3. As long as its not mandatory I wouldn’t care if it happened here.  I don’t know how it works in the US but here replacement number plates are bought from commercial outlets, just the actual licence number is given by the state.  As long as it conforms to certain readability and design requirements you can have anything you like.  Its not uncommon to get the dealerships name and number in the black border.

  4. I believe the publically religious people of South Carolina already have a way of expressing their faith on their cars.  It’s called a bumper sticker, and there are scores upon scores of them available at their local Christian outlet.  Either that or a Jesus fish.  Or they could get a can of Krylon or Rustoleum and go to town on the paint job, so, really, House Speaker Bobby Harrell is full of shit.

  5. As long as its not mandatory I wouldn’t care if it happened here.  I don’t know how it works in the US but here replacement number plates are bought from commercial outlets, just the actual licence number is given by the state.  As long as it conforms to certain readability and design requirements you can have anything you like.  Its not uncommon to get the dealerships name and number in the black border.

    From what I heard about this a few weeks ago on the Non-Prophets podcast, it goes like this (At least in Texas, not sure about SC):
    1. Interested citizen wants new logo on plate.
    2. Interested citizen has to pay $10,000 to dmv to have production line created.
    3. DMV starts offering new logo on plates for Interested citizen and all his interested friends.

    At least, that’s my understanding of how it works, but I’m sure it varies from state to state (I don’t know how it works here in NY for example).  I think if the above situation is how the plates came to be, then good for them, let them waste their money on what basically amounts to a very expensive bumper sticker. 

    However, if that set of rules is in place, and the state just started offering the xian logo plate without someone paying the start up costs, then it probably needs to be considered a church/state separation issue, or at least the state needs to be questioned on why they have this particular one available and not say an “I Don’t Believe” alternative. True, the state isn’t forcing the “I Believe” plate on anyone, but by excluding everyone else (or forcing them to pay an exorbitant fee to be included when the Christians get to be included for the cost of a vanity plate only) seems a bit discriminatory.

    I’m with NeonCat, If you feel the need to show the world your particular brand of crazy, buy a frickin’ sticker already.

  6. Surely even if it were universal it would be nothing more than a tool for discrimination. Though i hesitate to make such a drastic comparison, it reminds me of the yellow star of david in Nazi Germany. Surely in such a religious society as America, if it were easy to get one then anyone without one of these ‘i believe’ plates would be subject to descrimination.

  7. In all honesty I wouldn’t have a problem with the plates if they just had the words “I BELIEVE” on them minus any specific religions icon. Even with the cross and stained glass window it wouldn’t be too big of a deal because South Carolina allows any group to have it’s own custom plate so long as they’re willing to plunk down $4,000 or get 400 pre-orders for it. This means, in theory at least, that any other religious group, or even a group of atheists, could get their own plate if they wanted to.

    The problems come in from the fact that they are obviously giving this plate special status by the fact that they aren’t charging as much for it as they would for any other vanity plate though at the same time no profit from the plate is being given to any organization:

    Mr. Sanford told the department to charge people just enough to reimburse the state for the cost to produce the plate, estimated at $4 to $6, and to not allow any organization to benefit from its sales.

    The state offers 200 other specialty plates, supporting organizations like colleges, sororities, Boy Scouts and the Surfrider Foundation. The state charges up to $70 for those plates. The profit is sent to the sponsor.

    It also doesn’t help that this bill is one of several that were clearly designed as a means of pushing back against the ACLU that were recently passed in the state:

    The legislation allowing the plates was one of several religious-themed bills to became laws in the closing days of the state’s legislative session.

    The bills mean South Carolinians attending local government meetings could soon see the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer posted on walls, pray without fear of being sued and drive home in cars with the “I Believe” plates.

    […] Bauer helped push the measure through the General Assembly, saying it gives people a way to express their beliefs. The idea came from Florida, where a proposal for an “I Believe” tag ultimately failed.

    “I’m all about freedom of speech,” Bauer said.

    But he also said the religious bills are efforts to push back against the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups perceived as threatening South Carolinians’ beliefs and traditions.

    “People who support Judeo-Christian values are ever under fire now,” Bauer said. “It’s like they expect folks who are believers just to roll over because they’re scared of the ACLU.”

    Clearly there’s an intent at promotion of a particular religious viewpoint in the passage of the license plate and other bills. That’s a no-no.

  8. “People who support Judeo-Christian values are ever under fire now,”

    Can anyone explain to me what the fuck “Judeo-Christian” values are? Last time I checked, Judaic values are not exactly aligned with Christian values, especially that sticky part about that Jesus guy.  Funny how the Christians are also the only ones that seem to bandy that term about.  I doubt you hear it used by too many Jews.

  9. Do you have to buy the actual bit of plastic from the government?  Like I say, here its a purely commercial thing.  Thinking about it I wouldn’t be surprised if any logo is effectively a 9th letter. UK plates are just applied thin plastic letters, heat bonded to the plastic plate.  You don’t have to provide evidence of ownership, and some people have signs made from them.  I’m looking at this from a UK point of view, and thinking “Non issue”.

  10. I’m pretty sure these are 100% stamped plates, no plastic accessories.  The logos are stamped with the numbers, that’s why as Les said, they cost $4,000 and several pre-orders to get one made.  They have to make up a whole new die for the plate press. 

    You can get the plastic plate frames anywhere and put them around the plate for cheap though, but it’s not the same as a personally (well, specially) stamped plate.  Here in NY we have a variety of them to choose from, I’ve seen ones with the Yankees logo before, but I’d have to check our DMV to find out the full variety available.  I’m pretty sure we don’t have any Jesus ones here in NYS though.

  11. NYS custom plates:

    NYS Custom License Plates

    Maybe they are just painted on and not actually stamped, but the DMV has to issue them, I believe there are laws against placing your own changes on the actual plate itself, though not placing the plate in a frame.  I know that you are not allowed to put colored transparent screens over your plates here (though some people still do it).

  12. In Missouri the vanity plates don’t cost any more, technically that is. In order for the state not having to donate profit back to the organization, you have to have a receipt from the organization in order to get the plates. I contribute $25 a year to the Missouri Conservation Society in order to get permission to use the Missouri Conservation Heritage Bluebird plate. I send in my receipt with my renewal.

  13. In Texas they’re now using the printed version of the plates.  The design and numbers are painted/printed on instead of stamped.  Same metal plate backing.  They also issue new plates with new numbers after about 8 years – had new numbers/plates for my old car and the bike.  Annoying b/c I had to update my university parking and my tolltag. 

    Most of the vanity plates here run either $30 or $40 extra, and the state sends the money to the associated group.  Some plates, mainly the state/govt have different costs.

    My dad has plates from the 60’s where they stamped the year as well, so you got a new plate each year.

  14. @ Last Hussar

    In the United States tags are issued and only available from one’s state department of motor vehicles or equivalent agency.  So it’s not a matter of a third-party making a tag for you that has your particular information and also the “I believe” stuff, it’s a state government creating a tag for a religious group and charging them less for it.

    @ leguru

    You know, I just don’t understand your comment.

  15. @ Bogbrother

    Judeo-Christian means they get to hate the gays because that’s in the (Jewish) Old Testament, and they still get to go to Heaven despite hating people because Jesus forgave them (the Christian New Testament).

  16. NeonCat – meant to be irony.

    House Speaker Bobby Harrell is full of shit.

    As if ANY politician is NOT?

  17. As if ANY politician is NOT?

    As far as I’m concerned, until proven innocent any elected politician is just another unconvicted felon.

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