License to Drive Me Nutz

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.”

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “License to Drive Me Nutz

  1. I’m one of those godless bastards who argues that the state should not be promoting religion in this manner at all, but I’m sure that would not fly out there.

    So, yes, at the very least, let’s make them pay for the privilige of pushing god on their plates – and then take note of how many later decide it isn’t worth the $15.

  2. Arkades

    This just exposes how big a scam the paid alternative plates are in the first place. There’s no way they actually would cost that much more to produce or administrate, so it’s basically a way for the state to gouge the wallets of customers who care about certain causes.

    Example: I would totally get an environment plate if it weren’t for the stupid administration fee. On my budget, the price point difference between simply donating $25 and paying $40 just for the privilege of donating $25 is a deal-breaker for me.

    So, I content myself with the idea that people have to be willing to pay for the privilege of expressing themselves through their plates. You don’t step up and pay, you get a generic plate. End of story.

    Until now.

    Now, there’s a way for people to express themselves through their license plates at no additional cost to themselves… and, if the license branch runs out of the generic plate, have no choice but to express the new message or else pay more to get a specialty plate.

    Basic message: the state privileges some modes of self-expression more than others, and a state-approved expression of your religious beliefs can be yours at no extra cost, whereas any other message you care to send will come out of your own pocket. Is that fair?

  3. This shines a whopping huge light on the mindset of the fundies and evangelicals. They don’t want to be equal, they want privilege. Hell, their idea of the natural course of things is that they would of course have privilege, with everyone else equal in second-place.

    You know what, maybe it’s time to let the fundies run things? Let them try all that they want, and then when the inevitable disaster befalls this country as it self-destructs, maybe then they’ll learn the same thing as did the people arriving here 400 odd years ago: this is not a fucking good idea.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the ACLU on this one.

    And personally, you know, if I were Christian instead of my dastardly atheist self, I’d be embarrassed that people thought my faith needed this kind of assistance.

  4. Erin M

    @ Sarah in Chicago

    Y’know, I’d agree with you on that if I also had a different country to go back to. For better or worse, though, this is the one that gives me my passport. On the other hand, this sort of nonsense is what leads me to hold certain views on secession that would get (and have gotten) me labelled un-American. I mean, really, if they want to be gone so badly, why not let them? Is it really doing the rest of us any good to force them to stay?

  5. Ugh. It infuriates me that they willfully miss the point here, and start with the “People don’t like religion!” BS. Nobody cares if you have a Jesus fish and 75 evangelical bumper stickers on your car, as long as the state didn’t pay for them. How can anyone even pretend not to get that with a straight face?

    And it’s just gross that they’re forcing people to pick between God plates and paying extra. This is why we still live in Illinois, even though it means my partner has to commute to his job in Indiana 2 weeks a month. Bleh.

  6. Erin M –

    I’m really only suggesting that in jest, because the thing is, there would be a lot of people (particularly women and minorities) whose lives would be crushed in such a regime, that weren’t part of the dominionist fundie crowd and merely had the unfortunate luck of being born into such a society.

    Also, unfortunately, they really don’t want to secede, as if that were their concern, then the fact that us gays want to get married wouldn’t concern them, because it wouldn’t effect them. You see that in their missionary efforts; they want to convert everyone. it’s not enough that THEY believe, YOU have to too. So, they want to take the whole country with them, and you included.

    Just getting their own country wouldn’t be enough for them.

    And you know, as much as this isn’t my country, I have to say, a bunch of fundie nutjobs controlling the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal would seriously concern me, even if I were back home.

  7. oddjob

    Just getting their own country wouldn’t be enough for them.

    To no small degree, that’s how we started. The Crown was more than happy to cast off its religious fanatics and misfits to fend for themselves on the other side of the ocean. (In retrospect, who can blame them?)

  8. I can’t wait to see the first DUIs of people with these license plates – maybe having that plate will get them “off” in the eyes of Indiana’s theocratic government?

  9. I shall be interested to see the first DUIs of people with these license plates – maybe having that plate will get them “off” in the eyes of Indiana’s theocratic government?

  10. Ignore the first comment above – I stated it incorrectly.

  11. (In retrospect, who can blame them?)

    Does give you a whole new perspective on the pilgrims, doesn’t it?

    Not that I had such a good opinion previously, considering what they did to the people who were here before them.

  12. oddjob

    Does give you a whole new perspective on the pilgrims, doesn’t it?

    They were simply the Christian Reconstructionists of their day (quite literally).

  13. oddjob

    (Granted, that’s not the history of Jamestown, which pretty much was founded with the intent of making money, or New York, or Delaware, but it is the history of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Maryland. The others I know less about.)

  14. evilchemistry

    Great, religious welfare!

    Sanctimonious, check
    Pious, check
    Outlandish assholery, check

    jeebus

  15. Arkades

    Wonder how much it would cost to get a ‘PHARI C’ vanity plate? Because that’s what some of those folks really need.

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