Saturday, April 26, 2008

"In God We Trust" license plates

Arizona's legislature, like Florida's, is considering creating "In God We Trust" license plates. Indiana already has them, which, unlike other specialty plates, require no additional fee. The ACLU's lawsuit in Indiana against the plates was recently dismissed.

In Arizona, the state Senate approved legislation (HB 2046) sponsored by Rep. Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) which would require the Department of Transportation to provide "In God We Trust" license plates if some organization pays the $32,000 necessary for design costs. The bill was originally for "Arizona Highways" license plates when introduced in January, but has been modified into a religious proposal.

It looks to me like Gould's proposal puts the imprimatur of government on the promotion of religion, which violates both the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions. A contrary argument would be that there's no financial expenditure by the government, since the fees to produce such plates come from the individuals rather than the government. But by allowing the expression of a particular religious sentiment (supporting monotheistic religions) and not other religious sentiments (including disbelief in any religion), it will clearly favor one set of viewpoints on religion over others.

UPDATE (May 1, 2008): Correction, the Florida license plate under consideration was one which said "I believe" with a picture of a cross. The Florida legislature looks set to allow the legislation to die without passage.


Cairnarvon said...

The obvious solution is to try to pay $32,000 for the design of plates for a different religion (or pro-atheism), and then sue again when that gets rejected.

Jim Lippard said...


Nope. ARS 28-2404 says that an organization (that has to be a nonprofit which either has at least 200 members or agrees to pay for certain costs of the plate) can submit a request for a specialized plate, but the requirements include:

1. The primary activity or interest of the organization serves the community, contributes to the welfare of others and is not offensive or discriminatory in its purpose, nature, activity or name.

2. The name of the organization or any part of the organization's purpose does not promote any specific product or brand name that is provided for sale.

3. The purpose of the organization does not promote a specific religion, faith or antireligious belief.

The proposed bill is bypassing the third requirement of the existing law.

Einzige said...

I don't yet see how it's doing that.

The Organization in this case is the state of Arizona, which doesn't have the purpose of promoting a specific religion.

A further argument could be made that "monotheistic religions" is not specific enough.

I'm not saying that I am happy about the plates, mind you.

Jim Lippard said...


You've already fallen into the trap of the misinterpretation of separation of church and state if you think that "a specific religion" must be promoted. The promotion of religion over nonreligion is itself a violation.

It's more clear in the Arizona Constitution than in the wording of the U.S. Constitution. The Arizona Constitution, Article 2, Section 12 says: "The liberty of conscience secured by the provisions of this constitution shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment. No religious qualification shall be required for any public office or employment, nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror in consequence of his opinion on matters of religion, nor be questioned touching his religious belief in any court of justice to affect the weight of his testimony."

The key sentence: "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment."

Einzige said...

So, no public money will be used, thus not violating the constitution, and (presumably) the organization that does end up fronting the money will be one that "does not promote a specific religion."

VoilĂ ! We have "In God We Trust" license plates.

What other key info am I missing?

Jim Lippard said...

So is the DOT going to do all work associated with the "In God We Trust" plates on non-government property? Note that the Arizona Constitution prohibits the use of both public funds *and* property.

Also, by allowing such plates and disallowing comparable expressions supporting atheism or non-Abrahamic religions, that's unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by a government agency.

Einzige said...

Ah, yes. Good point.

It's good, though, that AZ's constitution is clearer on this than the US Constitution, since "In God We Trust" is all over the currency.

Marc said...

It looks like they're here as of March 4,2012. Fortunately, though, it may not be for long.

Since it came out a couple of years ago, I've wonderd if the "Golden Rule" plate is much different.

It is sponsored by the Arizona Interfaith Movement, not that you'd know this from the description of the plate on the AZ MVD website. Then again, they do include Humanism on their list of "Faith Groups," so maybe that counts for something.