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Dec 5 2009
SHL Plate v. IGWT Plate and why I told the ACLU about it.

I recently moved to SC and when I registered my car I got the SHL Specialty plate. I noticed something that didn't seem right so I sent an open letter to the SC Chapter of the ACLU to check the constitutionality of what I experienced. It reads as follows:

"To Whom it May Concern:

I am a new resident to the State of South Carolina. Today I transferred my license, Plate, and Registration from North Carolina. I requested a plate by the "Secular Humanist of the Low Country" organization. It shows the phrase "In Reason We Trust" The SCDMV's website clearly states that the organization being non-profit does not receive any part of the $30.00 fee. This leads me to believe that the State is charging extra for this plate. That I am fine with. The problem is that the "In God We Trust" plate the state offers does not cost extra. Therefore it is my belief that the state is discriminating against non-theists and secularists by charging more for the same service. My question to you is; Is my reasoning sound?

Thank You For Your Time,

Joseph Sileo

P.S. The DMV Officer I was assigned was very inquisitive about the nature of the organization and asked why I was getting the plate. Went so far as to ask If "I had Christmas". I was a bit put off by this."

I pose the same question to the community. Is my reasoning sound?

Dec 5 2009
Re: SHL Plate v. IGWT Plate and why I told the ACLU about it.

Dear Mr. Sileo,

First: WELCOME to SC and to the SHL Discussion Board!

I think you will find that most (if not all) of the regular contributors to this discussion board agree with your main point: through its offering of religious license plates as official, free options (not costing extra and coming from a sponsoring organization like ours), the state of South Carolina is illegally endorsing one religious view over others. If you use the search box above and search for "license" you'll see a lot of discussion about it.

What you will also find is that we are not all in agreement about whether this is worth doing anything about at this point in time. I, for one, am a big proponent of choosing our "fights" carefully. IMHO There are some policies that are definitely worth challenging (like the law which prohibited atheists from holding public office in SC, which SHL vice-president Herb Silverman successfully challenged in the 1990s), while others (which we would almost certainly lose and might generate more of a negative reaction from the general public than garner support) are not. Others in our group disagree with me on this.

One of the main reasons that the "In God We Trust" license plate is not a good candidate, in my opinion, is that "In God We Trust" has been the official motto of the United States since the 1950s. Now, I think THAT was also unconstitutional. Just as the motto of the US should not suggest that this country is only for people of a certain race or certain gender, it should not (and by my reading of the Constitution) can not state that this country is only for people with monotheistic religious beliefs. But, given that it is the motto, I don't think we'd get very far challenging it at the level of the license plate, and I also don't think we'd gain anything by trying to challenge it at the national level (though I'm sure others disagree with me on this as well).

Note that there is good news that you may not have noticed as you were busy with your move: the state also was offering an "I Believe" plate with a picture of a Christian cross on it. That one was much more obviously unconstitutional and was successfully challenged by the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It is still a hot topic among politicians trying to stir up their bases, but I do not expect to actually see the plate come back in the same form.


Dec 8 2009
Re: SHL Plate v. IGWT Plate and why I told the ACLU about it.

I have no problem with the plate itself or the "I Believe" plate. So long as all other points of view on the issue are given the opportunity to participate at equal cost both monetary and otherwise. Charge everybody equally or give it away to everybody. Give it to all, or give it to none.

As for picking battles I always think of this poem.

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak outóbecause I was not a communist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak outóbecause I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak outóbecause I was not a Jew;

Then they came for meóand there was no one left to speak out for me."

To take poetic license with this poem I mean to say that history has shown that persecutions almost always are gradual. Wether it be the origins of the slave trade in America, or the Holocaust, or even homosexuals. (See: Notice how around 1 ad the tide starts to turn coming to full persecution around the middle ages.)

The point is when a small discrimination isn't fought, then another will surely follow, then another, and before you know it your on your way to Auschwitz.

Dec 9 2009
Re: SHL Plate v. IGWT Plate and why I told the ACLU about it.


I understand what you are saying, that persecution comes on gradually, and while something may seem trivial now, a bunch of littles/nothings can add up to a big something. I personally struggle with this, and trying to figure out when is enough enough. You may see the IGWT license plate as a battle you want to take on. I admire your zeal, but like Alex said, you're probably not going to get very far considering it is the national motto. If I may, I think what Alex is saying is to choose which battles to fight, not to not fight anything. Perhaps instead of fighting the plates, your energy may be better utilized fighting the motto itself, and trying to bring back E pluribus unum or some other meaningful, yet secular, motto. Or even if you left the motto alone, there are lots of other issues you could spend time on. Just because we have to look at those stupid IGWT plates and do so in silence, doesn't mean we are sitting idly by.

Dec 10 2009
Re: SHL Plate v. IGWT Plate and why I told the ACLU about it.

I think I would get less far fighting the motto then the plate. Let me reiterate, its not the plate itself that bothers me, it is the fact that I am charged a rate to express my point of view that is higher then those that have the IGWT plate. In fact getting rid of the motto doesn't inherently get rid of the plate.

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