Boy, do I feel silly. Yesterday, I did a post about the suit against Indiana’s “In God We Trust” license plates being tossed. I said it didn’t seem like a big deal to me, and in the discussion thread I went back and forth with Doug and Alex, essentially putting myself out on a limb defending the state, a dangerous position to find oneself in. Now the state has gone and sawed that limb off:
For years, Liz Ferris saw her personalized license plate — BE GODS — as a quiet declaration of faith, a shorthand message urging people to “belong to God.”
But now the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles says there’s no place for God on personalized plates.
[. . .]
The BMV, which approved Ferris’ license plate eight or nine years ago, now is rejecting her message, saying that it violates a new policy that bars any reference to religion or a deity on personalized plates, a policy she says violates her First Amendment rights.
[. . .]
A BMV policy committee reviewing personalized license plate rules in December 2007 opted to make all religious and deity references off-limits, said Dennis Rosebrough, the agency’s spokesman.
“If you permit one,” he said, “you have to permit all. We believe the better judgment is to not have any references to deity.”
The committee aimed to streamline and clarify regulations. The BMV views such plates as a limited public forum and bars all references to religion, politics, gender and sexual orientation.
There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in the sentiments “In God We Trust” and “BE GODS,” is there? So what the state is saying that it can sponsor a religious sentiment on the license plates, but an individual can’t express the same religious sentiment as a vanity plate. If the state were actually trying to show it wanted to put the state’s imprimatur on certain religious observances, it couldn’t do a better job than this. Maybe Doug is right that we need to go back to one boring plate that just identifies one’s vehicle. Anything more, and the state either has to let anything or start deciding who can put what on the plates. It takes the simple task of taxing people for the privilege of driving and turns it into a complicated bureaucratic mess that just invites lawsuites. Maybe we should all be libertarian on this one — simplify, simplify.