The Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry

Join / Donate

All Forums > News and Current Events >

News and Current Events

Aug 24 2010
SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal

SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal

SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal


Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

COLUMBIA — South Carolina drivers might be able to buy a license plate with the words “I Believe” and three crosses, despite a federal judge’s ruling against a previous attempt to make similar tags.

This logo on's website contains the elements from the proposed license plate, though the proposed plate has the website name across the top.

Nine months after a federal judge barred the state from making legislatively approved plates with the religious message, Attorney General Henry McMaster says a similar plate designed by a nonprofit group is legal. The plate under review at the Department of Motor Vehicles reads along the top. It features a golden sunrise and on the left, three crosses symbolizing the site where Jesus was crucified.

The nonprofit group applied for the plates in February under state law that allows private groups to create specialty plates. It officially changed its name to the website address, in hopes of meeting new DMV rules that require tags bear the sponsoring group’s name.

“The specialty license program has a secular purpose — allowing all nonprofit organizations to identify themselves by a logo or symbol,” McMaster wrote in his Aug. 16 opinion. “It is our opinion that the Establishment Clause would not be violated by approval of the plate. Indeed, it is our opinion that denial would infringe upon the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks says agency officials are reviewing the opinion.

A group that advocates separation of church and state sued in 2008, after a bill creating the previous “I Believe” plates — featuring a Christian cross superimposed on a stained glass window — sailed through the Legislature. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer took the idea came from Florida, but the proposal failed there.

Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed that lawsuit on behalf of two Christian pastors, a humanist pastor and a rabbi in South Carolina, along with the Hindu American Foundation.

They successfully argued that legislative approval amounted to the government promoting one religion over another, noting that if private groups wanted the plates made, state law provides them a way to do that.

McMaster’s backing of the plates comes as no surprise. He issued a memo last August supporting the previous tags. Three months later, a federal judge ruled those unconstitutional.

But McMaster said the new plates involve no government endorsement.

South Carolina drivers already can pick from 127 specialty plates, from “Gone Fishing” to “No More Homeless Pets.” The 21 plates created through the nonprofit process include the “In Reason We Trust” tag, created by the Secular Humanists of the Low Country, according to the motor vehicles agency.

The most popular plate reads “In God We Trust,” Parks said.

“Almost any cause you can imagine is represented on DMV license plates,” said Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council, who served as consultant to the nonprofit that applied. “We knew it was a good idea and good way to proclaim the message but wanted to do it in a way that was legal and fit state guidelines.”

The director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said he wouldn’t have a problem with the proposed tags, as long as the group’s application gets no special treatment.

“If everyone is treated identically in preparation of these plates, then there is no problem. This would be a private group being handled precisely like any private group,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn.

However, he’s uncertain about allowing a website on a plate. While the official state tag gives the address of the state’s parks agency website, other specialty plates don’t feature a private group’s website.

“Just saying ’I Believe’ and having the cross is one thing,” he said. “The aspect of allowing the promotion of a website may raise significant issues.”

Aug 24 2010
Re: SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal

Honestly, I don't think people should view license plates as means to express personal opinions. There's plenty of room on a car for bumper stickers, signs and paintings to say what you want. The license plate belongs to the government and is just there to identify the car and verify that it is properly registered. So, I'd be quite happy if license plates were not so personalized.

But, in reality, they are. People get vanity plates and specialty plates and view it as a form of public speech.

Well, if these new "I Believe" plates really are just another private organization's specialty plate (like the ones belonging to colleges, clubs and the SHL itself) then I don't see any real problem with it. (It would only be a problem for me if, as before, it seemed to be a representation of the state government's religious views rather than those of the individuals who choose them.) Is anyone here upset by this development?

Aug 25 2010
Re: SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal

I have no problem with it, legally speaking. I agree that license plates are used to be identifiers for the vehicle, but much like websites, we have been given the choice to choose whatever "usernames" we want for our cars, or have one chosen for us by the state.

Having the specialty plates don't really hurt anyone. Sure, all it is is a symbol of expression and support for a cause, even one I might disagree with. As long as the government isn't sponsoring religion, I don't see a problem with it. They say that denying a particular group a license plate like this would violate free speech, however, one has to wonder if they would approve a license plate promoting "Satanists for abortion".

Aug 25 2010
Re: SC AG: New ’I Believe’ license plates are legal

I don't have a problem with it. I'm not really sure what is newsworthy here. Is it just that this comes after the failed state-supported "I Support" tags? I've had to read it twice because I thought I'd missed something. Am I missing something? This is a private group applying for and being approved for a specialty plate the same as any other private group, right? This is not government endorsed, right? Is it just that the Xians are excited because they finally get their Xian plates, after going about it the proper way?

Return to News and Current Events Forum
Return to Discussion Home

Webmaster: Alex Kasman 2016