Free speech on a hot piece of tin

Time to plug the work of a friend again. Hey, at least I am being up front about it.

My Milligan College buddy Jim Dahlman was up in Washington, D.C., with me last week, teaching at the Summer Institute of Journalism. He saw the John 3:16 GetReligion item and immediately decided to plug into the kinds of sources you have inside the Beltway and do one of his Johnson City PressFace to Faith” columns on it.

As you may have noticed, free speech is a big deal on this blog — even the right to offensive speech. But who knew this was going to turn into such a hot topic with license plates? Basically, Dahlman tried to find out what people on both sides of the Vermont license plate battle were thinking. It all seemed so strange.

So what was this all about? The state authorities were worried that the John 3:16 vanity plate would cause (wait for it) road rage.

It’s not just religion, either. The law governing vanity plates prohibits any message that “might be offensive or confusing to the general public.” The statute is thorough, to say the least, banning “combinations of letter or numbers that refer in any language to a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or political affiliation.”

Careful, says the state. These plates are hot.

Some of you probably think I am making this up. The folks at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center had trouble believing it, too.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Joe Perez

    I don’t have a problem with these Vermont laws or see what the fuss is all about. If you want Vermont to permit pro-God plates, are you ready for the likes of GODSUX? Even if you are, the cautious Vermont bureaucrats apparently don’t want to chance it, and that seems reasonable enough. Like there’s a right to a vanity license plate, come on!

  • Glenn A.

    Definitely right Joe, no one has a “right” to a vanity license plate. But once you open that can and let the worms out, like pretty much every state has, the free speech side of it is bound to come up.

    Seeing GODSUX on a plate isn’t that much more offensive than a lot of bumper stickers I have to look at now (including Christian ones). Would I find it offensive, sure…but as Terry said, that is one of the catch-22s in free speech.