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Judge halts ‘I Believe’ plates

14 December, 2008

They amount to state-sponsored religious preference, he rules


“A federal judge Thursday ordered South Carolina to freeze plans to produce a special “I Believe” license plate, refund motorists who have prepaid for the plates and direct them to make a different selection.

The plates, designed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, bearing a gold cross and a stained-glass window with the words “I Believe” across the top, amount to state-sponsored religious preference, U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie ruled in Columbia.”


The injunction, sought by four religious leaders, including Christians and Jews, and two religious groups including Hindus and Arabs, is temporary and may be appealed.

But Currie said the case would have a strong chance of success in court in showing the public’s First Amendment rights barring Congress and state governments from establishing a religion were violated by the plates.


Kevin A. Hall, of the Nelson Mullins law firm in Columbia, who represented Adams and pleaded against the injunction, said he would evaluate the state’s next step.

Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United in Washington, D.C., who argued for the injunction, said the state should let the case go, if the point is to protect S.C. taxpayers.

“The “I Believe’ license plate sends the message that South Carolina has a favored religion,” Kahn said. “That’s one message the state is not permitted to transmit.”



When the first Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they were able to establish a community based on a shared religion.  Years later, their Puritan descendants found disagreement with their point of view quite unacceptable.  Anne Hutchins and Roger Williams were driven out of the community for questioning some of the tenets of their beliefs (they founded Providence); Quakers (in New England) and other “infidels” were also driven away.  

When the founders of these United States began to create this “perfect union,” they wisely saw that the religious rights of all people had to be protected, from one another as well as from the interference of government.  It was an important enough right to be the first mentioned in the Bill of Rights.

The first Amendment to the US Constitution clearly states (emphasis mine):  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  

The decision of Judge Currie may provoke anger, outrage, or resentment by many Christians in South Carolina, but let us hope that they also recognize the necessity to uphold the guarantee of separation of religion and state.


Interestingly enough, a poll, included with the story, asked whether readers thought the ruling was fair.  At the time this post was written,  682 voters answered yes and 205  answered no.   (77% to 23%)

read the story here:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 December, 2008 21:15

    Well, at least someone is paying attention. I’m glad the injunction was sought by clergy. I was relieved to read that this was a religious plate. When I saw the title of the post I thought it was going to be about Obama plates, and then I’d have had to vomit.


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