"In God We Trust" Plate Constitutional
Special Report - November 25, 2008
While the state of Indiana distributes standard license plates with the message “In God We Trust,” they also forbid any references to religion on personalized license plates. On November 17, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the state’s distribution of license plates with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” as an option for a standard license plate with no additional fee. The plates became available in January 2007 after a 2006 statute authorized offering the plates at the same price as a standard Indiana license plate. Indiana offers the “In God We Trust” plate and a “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home” plate as equivalent alternatives to the standard state license plate.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought suit on behalf of a resident, who argued that the state should not offer the “In God We Trust” license tag as a standard plate, but instead should be sold for a fee as is done with nearly 80 specialty plates that include a “private message.” Apparently, the plaintiff paid a fifteen dollar fee for a specialty environmental license plate and claimed that the “In God We Trust” plates also constituted a special private message. The Appeals Court upheld a unanimous ruling by a threejudgepanel at the trial court level. Judge Margaret Robb, in the Appeals Court’s opinion, wrote that the Court was “not convinced the ‘In God We Trust,’ our national motto, can be categorized as a purely private message since the license plate can be construed to express either a public or private sense of national citizenship or patriotism in addition to a private expression of religious belief.”
Meanwhile, on November 24 the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit challenging an Indiana statute which forbids references to religion or deity on personalized license plates, which allow the owner to personally decide on the configuration of characters. The suit was filed against the commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles on behalf of a woman whose application to renew her nineyearold “BE GODS” personalized plate was denied because of the statute. “The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is speaking out of both sides of its mouth when it sells license plates with the word ‘God’ but then rejects a citizen’s personalized plate that uses the same word,” according to ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.