Written by Don Byrd
An agreement between a plaintiff NewJersey woman and the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission has settled a lawsuit over the rejection of “8THEIST” as a personalized license plate, referencing her beliefs as an atheist. Shannon Morgan’s application was denied in 2013 citing policies prohibiting “offensive” messages on plates.
The lawsuit, filed by Americans United, charged the Commission with discrimination. The NYTimes reports:
After she received that rejection, Ms. Morgan used the state’s online application form to apply for a plate that said “BAPTIST” and was quickly approved, said Richard B. Katskee, the legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group in Washington that acted as her legal counsel. It sued the commission in April 2014.
“She rightly realized that it was a straight-up case of religious discrimination against atheists and nonbelievers,” Mr. Katskee said.
The Motor Vehicle Commission rejects that characterization. Mairin Bellack, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the rejection of Ms. Morgan’s initial application was an “oversight.”
As a part of the settlement agreement, the Commission agrees that the plate does not violate vanity plate content regulations and will grant Morgan’s application. The Commission also agreed not to deny plate applications in the future for using words that may denote a non-theist viewpoint, and agreed to pay $75,000 that will be turned over to AU for attorneys’ fees.
There is nothing obscene or offensive to the public about atheists or atheist viewpoints. And there is of course no reason to deny atheist references on license plates. The government should treat all personalized message applications the same, using the same criteria, regardless of its religious or nonreligious perspective.