11/18/2009Federal Court Bans South Carolina Christian License Plate
US District Court judge strikes down as unconstituttional an I Believe license plate in South Carolina.
A US District Court judge ruled last week that the state of South Carolina violated the federal Constitution when it allowed drivers to choose a Christian-themed license plate last year. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie issued a scathing decision prohibiting the state from going forward with the plate's production.
"This case presents a textbook example of the need for and continued vitality of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment," Currie wrote. "The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly warned that government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization. This limitation on government action is based on the clear understanding of our founders that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion."
Currie pointed out that the state's department of motor vehicles created the plate in response to the 2008 law, not because members of the public demanded it. A special interest group known as Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit claiming the state should not have singled out Christianity over other religions by featuring a cross and a stained glass window on the plate.
"Government must never be allowed to express favored treatment for one faith over others," Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said in a statement. "That's unconstitutional and un-American."
South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer was the driving force behind the legislation that created the plate. He noted that even atheists can select a "Secular Humanists of the Low Country" plate which replaces the phrase "In God We Trust" with "In Reason We Trust" (view plate).
"Over a hundred different license plates in South Carolina allow freedom of expression from a multitude of different activities -- to clubs to groups to colleges," Bauer testified. "And I thought that if everyone else is allowed that opportunity, why shouldn't believers in the Christian faith be able to express themselves -- as so many other people have been able to."
Currie fired back in her ruling with a broadside attack on Bauer.
"The 'I Believe' Act had its genesis in Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer's desire to do here what had been unsuccessful in the state of Florida -- to gain legislative approval of a specialty plate promoting the majority religion: Christianity," Currie wrote. "Whether motivated by sincerely held Christian beliefs or an effort to purchase political capital with religious coin, the result is the same. The statute is clearly unconstitutional and defense of its implementation has embroiled the state in unnecessary (and expensive) litigation."
Currie struck down the law authorizing the plate and ordered that taxpayers pay the lawyer's fees for Americans United. A copy of the ruling is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.