Friday, March 15, 2002

atheist keeps plate
Vanity license plates. Good idea? Bad idea? My thought is that as long as they can be used to identify the vehicle, and they don't cause accidents, they are fine. Who determines whether or not a choice of language on a plate will be accepted? Are first amendment rights implicated in the choice of wording on a plate, and the granting or denying of that plate?

It's really a gray area, when it comes to the law. A motorist in Florida applied for, and received a vanity license plate that has the word "atheist" on it. The driver is the vice president of an organization called Atheists of Florida.

Florida's DMV recently sent him a letter telling him that they had received ten complaints about the plate, and were asking him to turn it in because it was objectionable. Rather than turning the plate directly over, the ACLU was contacted. Research uncovered that Florida had issued a number of plates with religious language upon them, such as "Jesus."

When the story about the recall of the plate appeared in the St. Petersberg Times, the decision to cancel the atheist tag was reversed. A review committee is now being put into place for all decisions regarding canceling plates that might have questionable language upon them.

Why write about something that seems so trivial? The ACLU doesn't appear to have even made mention of this incident on their website. As problems with legal implications go, this barely appears on the legal radar. We aren't advocating a certain belief, or lack of belief in religion.

But, mundane problems like this one are the types of things that go wrong that can slowly erode our freedom of expression. If "Jesus" on a license plate is OK, then why shouldn't "atheist" be also? Small problems are the ones that court battles aren't often fought over. Here, the press was instrumental in bringing a problem to light, and having government reconsider their actions. Nice job, St. Petersberg Times!

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