This City Will No Longer Celebrate Church Anniversaries on Vehicle Stickers

As of a week ago, this was the vehicle sticker all cars needed to display in Blue Island, Illinois:

As far as church/state separation goes, this is a low-priority case. But it might raise some eyebrows because a local government is using mandatory vehicle stickers to celebrate a church’s anniversary. The answer to this isn’t necessarily a lawsuit, but the city needs to know what the problem is and why they may be setting themselves up for trouble in the future.

So atheist activist Rob Sherman made a couple presentations to the local city council last month, explaining to them why this endorsement was unconstitutional.

Mayor Donald Peloquin took the advice to heart and issued an Executive Order (PDF) that fixes the current mess. He’s not going to replace these stickers — I’m sure that would be an administrative mess — but he will allow residents to modify them a bit:

I am issuing an Executive Order stating that as long as the 2011-2012 vehicle sticker displays the 2011-2012 year, the city of Blue Island name and the vehicle tag number, the resident will not be ticketed.

I, further issue an order that states in the future the vehicle tag will not display any religious institutions or religious symbols.

Wow. Go Rob! It was the perfect way to handle the situation and it got the response we wanted. Kudos to the mayor for doing the right thing, too. It’s not quite an apology but I think it’s even better — Peloquin is setting a tone that says no further government endorsements of faith will happen on his watch and he’s doing what he can to remedy the current situation.

If only every mayor would handle these situations like Peloquin did…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Heidi

    What is the purpose of these stickers?

    • rhodent

      According to Rob Sherman’s page, they are municipal vehicle tax stickers.  Having lived in MD, VA, and NC, I’ve never heard of such a thing before; are such things common in other parts of the country?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

        They are very popular in our state. In fact, I was sitting in the passenger seat of another car, for a city outside of Chicago, and I was surprised to see “In God We Trust” or “God Bless America” in the inside facing portion of the sticker. For three hours, I had to look at this statement, endorsed and pushed by this city with taxpayer dollars.

        The owner didn’t even know it was there when I inquired about it.

  • Miss Coconut

    Low-priority? Maybe. But I can tell you I’d be pretty damn pissed if I had to drive around with that on my car.

  • Stephanie

    Heidi, it’s probably parking. Non-residents will only be allowed to park in certain areas for a restricted time while residents can park there overnight (etc) since they live there.

    • Heidi

      Oh, OK. Thanks. I’ve never lived anywhere that had something like that.

      • stephanie

        Oh, wow! Looks like I’m wrong. They’re evidently a tax sticker. Much worse than parking… well, unless it’s a rainy night and you really need a spot. ;)

  • J Chapin

    Add me to the ‘What the hell are these for, anyway’ list… What is the city requiring stickers for? What if I drove my car through that city? I won’t have a sticker….

    • Miss Coconut

      I think it’s an inspection sticker.

      • PJB863

        These are similar to license plate stickers in that they show you paid your village/city/town vehicle tax for the year.  Contrary to what is stated above, you CAN be ticketed for failing to display it if you park on any public street or lot in your village.  This is a major source of revenue for municipalities in  the Chicago area, however not all towns require them.  The cost runs from $5 to $90 per year, depending on how greedy your municipality is.  It has nothing to do with an inspection and is not a parking permit – parking permits are an additional fee.

  • Daniel Lafave

    It’s not so much a church-state issue as a forced speech issue.  I would have no problem with a historical commemorative banner on government property as long as it was done on an equal basis, i.e. other groups (religious and secular) were commemorated at other times.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    These stickers, required my many cities–throughout Chicagoland anyway–are a tax on each vehicle costing as little as $5.00 a year(rare), to over $90.00 but most commonly around $15.00 a year and once again, that’s per vehicle, not per household or business.

    No city can argue that it is appropriate to tax their citizens while making them endorse religion!

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  • Longhorn10

    I live the Chicago burbs (and have been here for 10 years) and I don’t buy these stickers. I just park in my garage. They only give tickets for vehicles parked overnight.

  • Aaron

    Let’s get a copy of Rob’s presentation!  Sounds like he did something right, and maybe his presentation can be used as a template for future conflicts. 

  • Dark Jaguar

    I live in Oklahoma and not even our tags have something like this on them.  Actually 10 or so years ago inspection stickers were officially removed as a requirement (though bits of stray tire all over the road each summer suggest that people don’t tend to upkeep their vehicles now, or can’t afford to).

    It’s lower priority than the pledge of allegiance, but it’s a clear promotion of religion, so yes, I’d say that a lawsuit actually COULD have merit here, but going the presentation route before-hand worked out for the best in this case.  After that, I’d say go petition, then protest, then the legal route, if it came to that, but this one is pretty open and shut as far as crossing the line goes.

    • Dark Jaguar

      Forgot to add this.  I agree that this was the perfect response.  Sometimes I get concerned about the price of fixing a mistake even on a issue that I think is worth fighting.  In this case, the perfect response to negate that is exactly what he did, let people alter it, let it be known that this is not acceptable, and officially ban such recognition on a legally required sticker like this in the future.  No one could complain about financial waste here.  Such recognition can be done in other ways, perhaps as a bullet point on a list of similar anniversaries.

  • Anonymous

    Props to the mayor for actually acknowledging the Constitution and agreeing to remove the religious symbols. We see too many officials ignore this kind of blatant violation while giving the excuse of a) America is a Christian nation or b) Stop being a militant atheist! 

  • Anonymous

    Props to the mayor for actually acknowledging the Constitution and agreeing to remove the religious symbols. We see too many officials ignore this kind of blatant violation while giving the excuse of a) America is a Christian nation or b) Stop being a militant atheist! 

  • Anonymous

    In my opinion, this is another zero. It’s an acknowledgement of an historical event relevant to a group in the community. It’s not an endorsement of the church. I’d feel the same if it said Such and Such Mosque 1952-2012, or Such and Such Chinese Community Centre 1905-2005 or Gay Pride Festival 1991-2011. However, if the sticker said something about a God or supported a religious sentiment (like ChrisTK’s friend’s stickers), that would be something to speak up about.

    • Salastror

      Exactly, this is a non-issue, it’s not an endorsment.

      • T-Rex

        Non issue? I suppose you’d be fine being taxed and having to display this sticker on your car, right?


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