South Carolina's Christian License Plate: 'I Believe' This Is A Lawsuit Waiting To Happen

I somehow doubt that Scientologists are going to get a special license plate any time soon in South Carolina.

I frequently see people driving around in cars, trucks, SUVs, etc. who want me to know about their strong Christian faith. Their bumper stickers proclaim it, as do their little Christian fish symbols. I even saw a guy this weekend who felt compelled to make a giant fish symbol out of reflective tape for his door.

It's fine with me. It's your car, so go ahead and use it to spread whatever message you like.

But understand that the government can't help you. Thus, putting a cross on a state license plate goes too far.

In South Carolina, a special "I Believe" license plate bearing a cross in front of a stained-glass window could become the next specialty tag. The South Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate have approved it, and the measure is pending before Gov. Mark Sanford.

The Charleston Post and Courier reported that the license plate is being pushed by Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican from Bonneau. Grooms appears to be on a religious crusade this year. He has also sponsored bills fostering prayer at public meetings and encouraging government agencies and public schools to display the Ten Commandments alongside other "historic" documents.

Americans United urged the House to reject the measure. We said the plan is constitutionally problematic, pointing out, "[I]f the legislature passes a bill giving exclusive access to Christians, the speech could be mistaken for government speech and would constitute an impermissible endorsement of religion."

And make no mistake, "exclusive access" is what we're talking about here. The government is compelled to treat all religions equally, yet I somehow doubt that Scientologists are going to get a special license plate any time soon in the Palmetto State.

Even if the state were willing to create a special license plate for every religion, what would it do about the atheists? Would they get an "I Don't Believe" license plate? (Perhaps it could be identical to the "I Believe" plate except with a red slash through it.)

Like a lot of states, South Carolina offers a variety of special license plates. They honor colleges in the state, historic landmarks and even popular sports like NASCAR. There's a fundamental difference between these plates and the "I believe" tag: South Carolina can endorse NASCAR and even name it the official state sport. It cannot legally endorse Christianity.

Bruce Tomaso of the Dallas Morning News' Religion Blog put it well, writing, "As I often say to myself when legislatures – ours, South Carolina's, others – do silly things: Surely there must be something more important they could be working on."

Bingo. If lawmakers in South Carolina have nothing better to do than create Christian license plates, perhaps they should do the taxpayers a favor and knock off early for the summer.