In an effort to stop an atheist from mocking religion, Kentucky officials may be angering the most devout people in the state.
To make sense of this, you have to go back to 2016, when the head of Kentucky’s Division of Motor Vehicles rejected atheist Ben Hart‘s request to get a license plate reading “IM GOD,” even though he had it (without incident) in Ohio, where he had lived for the previous twelve years.
At first, the DMV told Hart his plate was “obscene or vulgar.” (It wasn’t.) Later, they changed the complaint and said it was “not in good taste.” (It’s fine.)
Hart responded with a lawsuit saying the DMV’s actions were a violation of his free speech. What Kentucky wanted was silly, he argued, because they allow you to buy an “In God We Trust” license plate template. How is that okay while taking a position on God on the plate itself is illegal?
The lawsuit is still working its way through the courts. Earlier this year, the judge rejected the state’s request to toss out the lawsuit. This case will be decided on its merits. We await the judge’s decision.
But in the meantime, something interesting has happened.
It appears that the DMV is now going through its list of all license plates and telling everyone with a previously approved religious message that they can’t have it anymore. While they haven’t said this out loud, it could be a way to block Hart’s license plate while letting the court know he’s not being singled out for his atheism.
Susi Burton, whose plate has read “PRAY4” for the past eight years, is particularly furious that she’s being told to turn it back in.
… she was stunned the other day — no make that “horrified” — to get a letter from the State Transportation Cabinet telling her that she had 20 days to return her license plate to the Fayette County Clerk’s office or the state would cancel her 2016 Lexus’ registration.“I want to say, ‘How dare you? You have people out there driving without licenses and without insurance and you’re hassling me?” Burton said.
While state law prohibits plates disparaging or promoting any particular faith, “praying for” someone is hardly specific to any one religion. Just like saying “I’m God” isn’t for or against any one group.
Even Burton understands the double standard at work here:
Burton said she’s offended by the thought of a plate that says “IM GOD,” but that doesn’t mean the northern Kentucky man shouldn’t have it.
That lady gets it.
What’s really ironic in all this is that Burton is demanding Kentucky be more accommodating of her religious views.
A state whose governor praises Ark Encounter, called bigot Kim Davis an “inspiration,” urged children to bring bibles to school, and argued that prayer would help stop crime. That guy is apparently not pro-God enough for Burton’s tastes.
For now, Burton’s pushing back. She’s filed an appeal to keep her plate — and she has support from the ACLU.
Heather Gatnarek, an American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky lawyer representing Hart, said she thinks Burton could argue that the state is violating her First Amendment rights.
“I think this falls into the same bucket of problems with our [“IM GOD”] case,” she said.
Burton said she has appealed the state’s order and has reached out to the American Center for Law and Justice and the ACLU to see if they would be interested in her case.
“I don’t want to be a doormat. I’ll fight it,” she said.
Believe it or not, both groups — usually on opposite sites of religious legal matters — could very well take up her case. Maybe they should just partner up on this one.
Side note: In a local news segment about this story, there’s an image of a license plate that says “PREY4″… I don’t know if they realized what they did.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)