Photo Credit: Greenville Online
Back in May, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant introduced the state’s new “default” license plate that included the state seal with the phrase “In God We Trust.” “Default” license plate means that anybody who needs one will get the one with this motto. The old plates featured the guitar, a symbol representing blues legend B.B. King.
The standard Mississippi license plate is redesigned every few years, partly as a way of catching people who fail to pay the annual renewal fees. Drivers receive the new plate when their old one expires and they pay the fees. Bryant is the reason the religious phrase is on the state’s seal at all, the result of a bill he signed in 2014. If anyone wants to avoid promoting God by getting a different background on license plate, it’ll cost extra.
According to the American Humanist Association’s (AHA) Legal Director David Niose, new Mississippi license plate design is unconstitutional. Unlike on our money, Niose said, the religious phrase on these plates is front and center… and large. It’s clearly a promotion of religion. Niose called on Bryant to make sure there are free alternative plates for residents that don’t include religious propaganda.
“The problem, obviously, is that many individuals do not believe in a God, let alone trust in him, her, or it. Thus, to create a standard license plate that displays that phrase, with no alternative at an equal cost that avoids such a statement, unconstitutionally endorses religion,” AHA Legal Director wrote in the letter to Governor Bryant.
The letter ends with AHA’s expectations: “It is our expectation that proper steps will be taken to ensure that non-theistic Mississippi drivers can, without paying extra for a variety plate, display a license plate that does not make a theistic affirmation. Ideally, this would mean the state choosing another, neutral design as the standard plate. In the alternative, other options could be made available at the standard-plate rate.”
Religious liberty is only alive and well in any country when government cannot tell citizens whether, when, where, or how to worship; and because government cannot take sides on matters of faith. By introducing new license plates, Mississippi’s government is trying to “whisper” all those who have cars that they should believe in God and it is not religious liberty.