New Jersey Nixes License Plate That Says ATHE1ST, Calling the Word ‘Offensive’

If you ever come across a passenger car with New Jersey plates that spell ATHE1ST (with a number 1 instead of the letter I), chances are that the driver is David Silverman, the president of American Atheists. Give him a friendly wave. Silverman will have earned it, because he will have prevailed in his current feud with New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission.

You see, the other day, the MVC’s powers-that-be decided to reject rather than rubber-stamp Silverman’s application, on the grounds that a license plate that says ATHE1ST is “offensive.”

In other words: According to New Jersey authorities, you can drive around with plates that say 4CHRIST or LUV YHWH or GO THOR or pretty much any letter combination that signals a belief in god(s), but stating that you live free from superstitions is offensive and intolerable, and no innocent motorists and pedestrians must be subjected to such a horror.


It doesn’t sound like Silverman was looking for a fight, but the Garden State just gave him one. He’s already filed his first appeal.

We’ll keep you posted.

***Update***: Dave Silverman’s appeal letter can be read here. More information is on American Atheists’ website.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Timmah

    Wow, talk about messing with the WRONG person. lol

    • viaten

      Yes, but I can’t think of a more perfect person for this to happen to.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Religious people get offended at billboards that state that atheists exist, and they get offended at the sight of the word “atheist”. Attempting to take their stupid feelings into account is a fool’s errand, as has been demonstrated time and time again.

  • tinker
  • 00001000_bit

    “Can I get my ‘A the first’ licence plate, please.”

    [ ATHE1ST ]

    “Thank you.”

    • allein

      I like it.

      Edit: I could do that…in honor of my grandmother (I’m “A the third” in my family). ;)

    • A3Kr0n

      I can’t get either one in Wisconsin. Both are taken.

  • Silent Service

    It is always strange to me how offensive some religious people find our existance.

  • allein

    Seriously, NJ? I read this blog and tend to be glad I live here, and then every once in a while we show up… :(

  • Tainda

    Hahaha WTG Jersey! You have chosen the perfect person to bring this up with!

  • C Peterson

    I wonder if anybody in NJ is driving around with a plate that reads THEIST? If so, it better be recalled on grounds that it is offensive, or the state better be prepared for a losing fight.

  • Jasper

    Incidentally, variations of “Jew” are also banned, though I couldn’t find any Christian-related banned ones. (I’m actually not sure if the Jewish find “Jew” offensive, or not).

    • Gus

      I’ve wondered that… sometimes it seems like it’s just the proper term for the members of the religion or ethnicity, but it’s also been used as a slur….

    • Gus

      That list is very entertaining reading. My favorite banned plate so far: ONANISM.

      OHMYGOD is also banned? WTF?

      • MD

        How about ONANIST?

    • Gus

      I could spend all day on this list. Just the Os are so entertaining. OLDFART? How sensitive are we? O4SPYDR? O6VETTE? Can someone tell me what the offensive interpretation of those is? Or is the DMV just not familiar with car models?

      • Jasper

        I’m trying to figure out how someone in another State got away with “I1I111I1″ or whatever it was.

      • Artor

        Don Ho, the Hawaiian musician, tried to get plates with his own name on them, but was rejected because “Ho” is offensive. I don’t know if he successfully appealed or not.

    • Gringa123

      that list is pretty funny. Fungool!

  • Gus

    I would imagine this is some low level bureaucratic screw up that will be quickly remedied, but the fact that it hasn’t been yet makes me wonder. New Jersey can’t win this fight and it will cost them much needed money, so I don’t know why someone hasn’t overruled the decision already, unless they’re just defensively circling the wagons. They’ve just dropped an early solstice present in Dave’s lap.

    • eric

      I hope you are right. If so, the timing is not particularly surprising to me; bureaucracies are not just slow, but overturning already-made decisions tends to be the slowest process in a bureaucracy. Correcting the mistake of some junior flunkie probably requires the approval of multiple senior management types, who are generally loathe to sign anything of political sensitivity.

      • wmdkitty

        Friggin’ Vogons…

    • Rich Wilson

      It will also be a PR disaster. Heck, even Bill O’Reilly is likely to come out on Dave’s side on this. Someone high enough up will realize this needs to shut up ASAP, will issue a statement that it was all a misunderstanding, give Dave his plate, and desperately hope for bigger news.

      • randomfactor

        Maybe someone with aspirations of running for President might want to look good to unbelievers by overruling the ruling

  • GloomCookie613

    Somebody at the NJMVC did not know who they were fucking with on this one. Dave will eat them for lunch and laugh.

  • Matto the Hun

    Guys, guys GUYS!

    Aren’t we all forgetting the bigger picture here?

    That Christians are soooooooo persecuted in the U.S.! *big sad face*

    • Alessia Lane

      *sad trombone*

      • Artor


  • Neil Rickert

    My Illinois license plate says WTF, and the state didn’t object at all.

    Actually, it is “WTF xxx” where the “xxx” are three digits. I did not make any special request. I just happened to get that one. There are probably 999 other people in the state with “WTF” plates.

    So “WTF” is okay in Illinois, but “ATHEIST” is offensive in NJ. The state of New Jersey deserves to lose on this one.

    • viaten

      What if it were “WTF 666″? I wonder if any states skip over certain numbers.

  • AtheistInBibleBelt

    Ooooooh boy! This is going to be a fun fight to watch New Jersey LOSE!

  • Michael Harbour

    This brings to mind the ongoing battle with the U.S. Trademark Office regarding the band name “The Slants.”

    Words have frightening power. Live in terror of the alphabet.

    • b33bl3br0x

      I thought the derogatory name was “slopes”.

  • Michaela Samuels

    Did they really think that he would just tuck his tail between his legs and run away? I just don’t know what people are thinking sometimes. Yeesh.

    • randomfactor

      I doubt the person who made the call has any idea who Silverman is. Maybe someone should show them the memeshot.

  • gadlaw

    Ah, just put a Atheist sticker on your car. Put it in big letters across the front and the back and take everybody’s vanity plates away. Unless you are going to also outlaw the jesus vanity plates you need to let the horribly offensive ‘atheist’ plates in. Just be consistent. The guy should win, this is a no brainer.

  • Justin Miyundees

    An easy lay up is nice every once in a while and still two points!

  • atheisticallyyours

    Suing this pathetic motor vehicles agency out of existence would be a good start!

  • LesterBallard

    Religious people, particularly fundies of all stripes, are offended by the very existence of those who don’t share their beliefs. That’s why it’s fun to rub their faces in my non belief.

  • cryofly

    But my car runs on gas and not god.

    • EuropeanCommunist

      Doesn’t make that much of a difference, whenever you need it, it’s not there!

  • viaten

    “ATHEIST” plates are offensive, but just about any kind of bumper sticker is no problem.

    • randomfactor

      Bumper stickers don’t imply government approval/disapproval. By censoring plates, the state has done just that.

      • viaten

        That occurred to me, but conceivably bumper stickers could have government rules (but don’t). But vanity plates are allowed and allow people expression like bumper stickers so it seems the same should be allowed for “ATHEIST” plates.

        • Artor

          License plates are issued by the gov’t and are required. Bumper stickers are personal expressions, and nothing else. This is a really poor comparison.

          • viaten

            Yes, the plates with some kind of identification are required, but the identification can have some variability that allows the driver to express themselves in some way. That’s why they are called vanity plates. It’s a personal form of expression a driver pays extra for though they can’t be as expressive as with bumper stickers which are cheap or free. There is still some comparison there.

  • CommentMaker

    I am surprised that the government agencies have decided that ATHEIST is offensive. That is not to say I am for atheist, but freedom is freedom.

    • Bitter Lizard

      …I really shouldn’t…

      • baal

        Miley’s shorts were that tight? It looks photoshopped.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Possibly, but the quote was definitely in the original.

      • islandbrewer

        That just looks painful.

        • Bitter Lizard

          I think that song they did–”Blurred Lines”–has a line saying something like “I’m gonna tear your ass in two”. Looks like Miley’s wardrobe beat him to it.

        • RobMcCune

          Yeah, that’s one article of clothing that should not lift and separate.

        • wmdkitty

          No kidding. I’m uncomfortable just seeing that wedgie!

      • b33bl3br0x

        what does twerk mean?

        EDIT:I could google it but am at work and don’t know how workplace appropriate the results may be.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Kind of a dance move involving your butt going all vibratey.

        • Rich Wilson

          Good call, but how much worse can it be than the above image :-)

          (Just imagine that image as an animated gif and you’ll get the idea)

  • compl3x

    So what is offensive: the word, the idea, the fact someone would advertise it, the fact someone would have to make the plates (imagine some poor theist having to manufacture a license plate with ATHEIST on it), the fact someone asked for it, or just all of the above?

    • randomfactor

      Well, at least we’re unlikely to have the reverse situation–an atheist unhappy about having to manufacture godly plates.

      They’re still mostly made in prisons, aren’t they?

  • compl3x

    Wait, is it ironic that an atheist is being denied a vanity plate? Vanity is a form of self-idolatry/pride and since atheists don’t believe in that sin shouldn’t an atheist be the only ones really permitted to display such items?

  • Oswald Carnes

    Brave guy. I’d never want to leave a defense-less car out in public with that plate where some violent jesus goon could get at it.

    • Timmah

      This is a dude who goes on Fox News and tanks like 4 fundies coming at him at the same time. And wins. I’m sure he’ll be fine. :)

  • Richard Wade

    Actually, I hope the bureaucratic troglodytes dig in their heels and we have a great show.

    Future history:

    After six years of legal wrangling, appeals, governmental foot-dragging, and inexplicably long judicial delays, Silverman vs. New Jersey finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court in September of 2019. After only one half hour of hearing the arguments, eight of the Justices found in favor of Silverman, and right there in the court chamber they openly expressed their incredulity that this case had even come before them. The one dissenting Justice was Antonin Scalia, then 83 and weighing a reputed 688 pounds. Held up by straps to his arms, legs, and body in a rolling frame similar to a large walker, he resembled Baron Harkonnen from the science fiction novel Dune. Spraying spittle in his fury, he railed about how the word “atheist” is offensive “because, because, well because I say so!” To the shock of everyone present in the courtroom, his face took on the colors of the American flag each in turn, red, white, and finally blue, and he died of apoplexy. The next day, there were requests for vanity license plates with the word “APOPLEXY” in every state in the union. None were denied for being offensive.

    • Artor

      Nailed it!

    • guest

      thumbs up for the Dune reference!

  • Paul (not the apostle)

    I bet REASON would be offensive as well but BELIEVE would be fine

  • Rich Wilson

    Interesting update

    He already previously had ‘ATHEIST’, now he wants ‘ATHE1ST’ and it was denied.

    • Gus

      Judging from the list of banned plates in New Jersey, they seem to be a bit overly sensitive about numbers serving as letters, so that may actually have something to do with it.

  • kkaplan


  • Greggory Basore

    Yeah it is offensive… to people who shouldn’t have the kind of power that was given to whoever denied the plate.

  • Frank

    Offensive? Hardly. I am all for atheists wearing a label so we know how to identify the fools.

    • Drew M.

      Makes sense. Most theists are too stupid to figure it out otherwise.

    • Mike

      You’re adorable, Frank.

      • Frank

        I know.

    • Bitter Lizard

      What’s the difference between Jesus and a picture of Jesus?
      You only need one nail to hang up a picture of Jesus.
      Can’t stop the truth!

      • Frank

        Yes you can’t stop the truth. 2 billion plus and growing!

        • randomfactor

          Oh, I don’t think the Moslems have THAT many yet. But they’re growing, and they’re young.

    • Tainda

      I find the word “Frank” offensive. GTFO

      • Frank

        No. 2 billion plus and growing! Nothing you can do about it!

        • Gus

          Funny how all that growth is among people with the lowest educational attainment and economic opportunity.

          • Frank

            You can try to explain it away if it makes you feel any better. Won’t make a shred of difference though.


            • Rich Wilson

              at 1.56% barely outstripping global population growth, but lagging behind Hinduism at 1.69%, Islam at 1.84%, Sikhism at 1.87% and the admittedly small Bahá’í and Zoroastrianism both at over 2%

              • Frank

                Christianity is the fastest growing religion in absolute growth, meaning the fastest growing religion in the annual increase of new adherents. Its projected to reach 34.3% of the world population by 2050. Can’t stop it!

                • Bitter Lizard

                  Really, that’s all? That’s not very much. And it’s mostly in dirt poor countries. Christians are really losing their influence in the first world, huh?

                • Spuddie

                  Want to know what really can’t be stopped?

                  You can’t stop the music!

                • Gus

                  I thought it was Frank’s trollery that couldn’t be stopped….

                  Really, I wouldn’t be encouraging him by replying if this were a more important topic..

                  Is that a rick roll?

                • Spuddie

                  Its supposed to be the trailer for the megabomb musical Can’t Stop the Music. I am not sure if it came through.

                  I guess it worked! Yay!

                • Rich Wilson

                  Thanks Spuddie! For those of us over a certain age- that’s fabulous!

                • Spuddie

                  Much obliged.

                • Rich Wilson

                  Put another way, for every 78 new people, 25 will be Christian, and the rest will be ‘not’ Christian.

                  You’ve only got the top in absolute numbers because of your starting position. If you extrapolate out current trends far enough, you’re going to lose to Islam.

                  Good thing such extrapolations are meaningless.

                  But then you never have had any better arguments than claiming to know God’s word.

                • Gus

                  But how many of those are “true” Christians? Are you willing to claim any member of any Christian church to show your numbers are big? Catholic, mainline protestant, evangelical, fundamentalist, Coptic, Orthodox, non-denominational and unaffiliated?

            • Gus

              Why would it make me feel better to know that there are so many religious people out there dedicated to exploiting poverty and ignorance? No, it makes me rather sick.

              But I hope you enjoy being in the minority or living in sub-Saharan Africa, since Christianity will continue to shrink in the developed world.

          • RobMcCune

            Frank doesn’t need education or opportunity so long as he thinks he’s popular.

        • RobMcCune

          Really? 2 billion people named Frank? I suppose that puts you near the bottom of a very long list.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      …said quite a few of the “Master Race”.

      Jesus loves you despite your horrifying drive towards totalitarianism, Frank.

  • Drew M.

    Kick their collective, moronic asses, Silverman!

  • randomfactor

    Damn. The state caved and will issue the plate after all.