Indiana’s “In God We Trust” license plates, about which I was complaining a couple of weeks ago, have prompted a challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Mark Studler, a Hoosier who, like Mr. Shakes and me, has consistently paid a $40 additional fee for environmental plates, $25 of which goes to the Indiana Heritage Trust, a state conservation group, and $15 of which is called “an administrative fee” that goes to the state. Studler, also like Mr. Shakes and me, was decidedly unthrilled to discover that the “In God We Trust” license plate is not considered a “specialty plate,” offered instead as an alternative to the standard plate at no extra cost: “Not even the $15 extra fee that usually goes to the state for administrative costs.”
“I don’t have any problem with people expressing their religious beliefs, whether it’s on a bumper sticker or their license plate,” said Studler, 49, a construction worker. “But folks should be treated in the same way — and charged the same fees by the state — as Hoosiers who prefer that their custom tags promote education or the environment.”
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Studler, in state court against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Commissioner Ronald L. Stiver. The complaint challenges a law that lets motorists get the “In God We Trust” design without paying the $15 administrative fee.
…State officials say the plate, introduced in January, has been a hit, chosen by more than 540,000 motorists. That means that had the state charged the $15 fee, it would have an additional $8 million in its coffers.
Question: Did I just get a notice that my property taxes had been increased again?
Answer: Yes I did.
Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, explains, “The issue isn’t the message. It’s not about religion. It’s about making sure that nearly every other plate that carries a message has a cost attached to it, and this does not.” One might think that would be a simple enough explanation for any slack-jawed dipshit to wrap his or her head around—since there are over 75 specialty plates offered in Indiana, none of which are offered at no charge except this one—but one would be wrong, of course.
“It’s on our currency. We mention God in the Declaration of Independence,” said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute. “I think the lawsuit is more than misguided. I think it shows that they’re hostile to any expression of the divine.”
Yes. Right. Absolutely. Because none of us would bat an eye if, for example, the specialty plate supporting the Indianapolis Colts was suddenly made a standard plate. It’s just because we hate the Baby Jeebus!
Meanwhile, in a shocking twist, the Republican state representative who introduced the legislation that eventually resulted in the existence of this stupid plate, Woody Barton, totally doesn’t get it: “I’m a Christian, but I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim. Your god may not be my god, but this is still a country that’s based on faith. Why can’t you tout that on your license plate?”
I see your juvenile rhetorical device and raise you one condescending sneer: “Ever heard of atheists, fuckbrain?”
See, here’s the thing about ol’ Woody’s bill: Because specialty plates donate money to some organization or other, there was a concern about an “In God We Trust” specialty plate violating the separation of church and state, as donations would logically go to some kind of religious organization. So Woody rewrote it to make the plate a standard alternative plate. No special fee, no donation, no possible separation conflict.
Problem is, if my local branch runs out of non-god standard plates, they can offer me this one, and if I don’t want it, my only option is to pay up for a specialty plate. Which, by the way, is happening across the state, because Indiana changes its license plates every five years and our non-god standard plate is in its fourth year, so they’re just letting them run out: In some places, it’s “the only game in town for the driver who wants a new license plate this year.”
I can’t imagine the state’s going to win this one, but stranger things have happened in the Hoosier State before.
Like being called the Hoosier State, for instance.
Anyway, I’ll just leave you with this little anecdote:
On Friday, the line of residents waiting to renew their driver’s licenses and get plates wound outside the BMV office on the southern edge of Fort Wayne.
As Andrea Gordon slowly made her way toward the door, she passed by a wall covered in fliers vying for her registration dollars.
“Share the Hope!” pitched one offering a plate for breast cancer awareness. “Another Sunset Saved” wooed a second, pitching a pro-environmental plate.
“Step up to the plate! Support statewide efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect by purchasing a Kids First license plate,” offered a third pamphlet.
“You know, I just like the idea of going with one that talks about God,” said Gordon, 42, who works at a laundry. “Besides, it’s cheaper and that’s what really sells me on it.”