Nov 11, 2009

When it comes to church-state separation, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer just doesn't have a clue.

That's never been more apparent than it was yesterday. After a federal judge ruled against a legislature-mandated "Christian" license plate, Bauer carried on in a way that made me think he not only failed to read the court's opinion, but that he also doesn't   understand the principle of basic fairness.

While Americans United was celebrating our victory in this case, Bauer held a press conference and released a statement that was full of misconceptions and false allegations.

Bauer claimed that our lawsuit, and the court's decision, "clearly discriminates against persons of faith." He said he will ask the state attorney general to appeal this ruling because "it is time that people stand up for their beliefs. Enough is enough."

Bauer's statement is almost laughable. This lawsuit actually prevents discrimination against persons of faith, and that's more than evident.

When State Sen. Yance McGill was asked by the Associated Press in May 2009 whether he would support a Wiccan tag, he said, "Well, that's not what I consider to be a religion."

When asked about a Buddhist tag, he said "I'd have to look at the individual situation. But I'm telling you, I firmly believe in this [Christian] tag."

Rep. Bill Sandifer also backed the "Christian" plate, but emphatically asserted that he would never do the same for a plate featuring Islamic symbols and language.

"Absolutely and positively no," he said.

And, let's not forget, Bauer himself also said no to the same question.

"I would not [support a tag for Islam] because that is not the group I support," he said.

So, Lt. Gov. Bauer, who is the one discriminating against people of faith? The passage of this license plate made adherents of other faiths feel like second-class citizens. The judge ruled against this yesterday, and rightfully so.

But Bauer doesn't just stop there. He continues in his criticism of the court's decision, saying the judge's ruling was "another attack on Christianity" and that he is "not going to sit by and watch this happen."

Obviously, Bauer has also failed to realize that two of the plaintiffs in our lawsuit – the Rev. Tom Summers and the Rev. Monty Knight -- are Christians themselves.

"It is vital as a Christian minister I speak out and be involved in matters like this that are discriminatory and unfair," Summers told Church & State in January 2009. (Summers is a retired United Methodist minister who serves as lead plaintiff in the Summers v. Adams lawsuit.)

"I received some emails that asked how I, as a Christian minister, could be involved with this," he said. "But what I told them is that it is very Christian to be involved in a matter like this. One of the core values of Christianity is equality and fairness. This case is wrapped up on a human level on the issue of fairness. For a license plate to be displayed that is government sanctioned only for one faith group, it makes other faith groups in our state feel very isolated."

And finally, Bauer makes his last misguided plea: that this is simply a matter of choice.

"I believe," he said, "that every South Carolinian has the right to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and choose among dozens and dozens of license plates the one particular tag that they want to share with the rest of the world about their personality and beliefs."

Except for those of faiths that Bauer and his friends in the legislature did not want to see have a license plate. They don't have that "choice." If this "Christian" license plate had not been stopped, it would have been the only religious plate made available to South Carolinians by the legislature. That's not a choice, that's an imposition.

So, to sum it up, Bauer is wrong. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie saw through his tactics.

"Whether motivated by sincerely held Christian beliefs or an effort to purchase political capital with religious coin, the result is the same," Currie wrote. "The statute is clearly unconstitutional and defense of its implementation has embroiled the state in unnecessary (and expensive) litigation."

In the end, Bauer claims he is "offended" that Americans United was rewarded attorneys' fees in this case. Well, here's some advice to him and the South Carolina legislature on how to avoid that in the future: stop violating the Constitution.