A federal judge today ruled that the state of South Carolina may not issue a special “Christian” license plate featuring a cross, a stained-glass window and the words “I Believe.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sponsored the litigation to stop issuance of the plate, hailed the decision.
“The ‘I Believe’ license plate is a clear example of government favoritism toward one religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The court drove home an important point: South Carolina officials have no business meddling in religious matters.”
U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie today issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the state to issue or manufacture the plates. She also ordered the state to inform people who requested the plates that they will not be available and to remove information about the plates from the state Web site. Currie will release a written opinion on Monday.
Americans United brought the Summers v. Adams legal challenge on behalf of four local clergy the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Summers, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Knight and the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones as well as the Hindu American Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
In legal briefs, AU asserted that the “I Believe” license plate was unlike other specialty tags offered by the state. The measure authorizing the special plates was passed unanimously by both houses of the legislature, with the active support of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
Americans United also pointed out that some legislators openly admitted that they would not vote for similar plates for minority faiths.
Asked by a reporter if he would support a license plate for Islam, Rep. Bill Sandifer replied, “Absolutely and positively no…. I would not because of my personal belief, and because I believe that wouldn’t be the wish of the majority of the constituency in this house district.”
Said AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, “The ‘I Believe’ license plate sends the message that South Carolina has a favored religion. That’s one message the state is not permitted to transmit.”
Khan argued the case in Columbia before Judge Currie, assisted by AU Madison Fellow Elizabeth J. Stevens. Aaron J. Kozloski of Capitol Counsel, a Columbia, S.C. law firm, served as local counsel.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.